As excited as we are to return to in-person learning, we are concerned about the pressure that the volume of students is having on campus operations. After a year of short lines and empty spaces, the campus is suddenly stuffed to the brim with people milling around.
This year brought in a record number of 945 first-year students. Lofted triples are a common occurrence at Brandeis, but there seem to be more than ever this year in order to accommodate the influx of students. Even with these cramped spaces, there is still not enough room to lodge students, as some first-years are living in East Quad—residence halls that are typically set aside just for sophomores. Nothing says welcome to Brandeis like living in a ditch on the side of campus, in a notoriously lousy residence hall. Furthermore, only 52 percent of students currently live on campus, according to the U.S. News report.
Another struggle comes with the dining halls. Upperclassmen remember the pre-COVID era of cramped dining halls and the fight to find seats during the peaks of lunch and dinner. This year seems to really bring back that challenge. While a rush is expected at peak hours, it is only exacerbated by the block schedule. In previous years, classes would end in staggered times—either at the half hour or at the 50-minute mark—so the dining hall arrival times were staggered. Now, more classes end at the same time, meaning the swarm is incredibly overwhelming.
Though there are many retail locations on campus, these are also overwhelmed during peak times, with food preparation getting extremely delayed. Various community members are even joking about the lines outside of Dunkin in Usdan. Last year, the Bite app was stellar at minimizing wait times for food, allowing students to order ahead and pick it up later. While the service still moves quickly at off-peak times, editorial board members have waited around 30 minutes after their designated pickup times to get food during the lunch rush. We understand the app has to accommodate a much larger community of students than last year, however, the delays are still alarming, since the university should be able to handle the capacity of students it is allowing on campus.
Additionally, classrooms seem more packed than ever, likely due to the high volume of new students and the overlap of classes due to the hour and a half block. The new COVID-19 space capacities seem to have been created just to say that they have a cap; this labeled capacity doesn’t stop Brandeis from shoving 30 people into a room that is really only meant for no more than 20 people. Once again, the university should be able to handle the number of students permitted to be on campus without endangering students with violations of health and safety protocol; and even without COVID, no one likes people breathing down their necks. The larger both lower and upper level classes become, the less usable a lot of classrooms on campus become.
According to the university COVID-19 training module, unvaccinated individuals (which make up five percent of our community) are still required to maintain six feet of social distancing. That is simply not possible in most of the classroom spaces being provided.
Parking is another issue waiting to crack: in the past, if you arrived on campus at 8 a.m. you could get a decent parking spot. Now if you want a spot anywhere near Ziv, you better arrive at 6 a.m.; by the time 8 a.m. rolls around, your best bet is in some questionable spot near the business school. Forget finding a spot in general between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
There are many people on the Brandeis campus every day outside of the typical Brandeis community, too. Tours are happening again and guests are allowed on campus, which leads to some intense testing lines, especially first thing in the morning and right before the sites close. The university has acknowledged this problem, and what was their solution? “Go during class hours.” We’ll get right on that during our next biology lecture, I’m sure the professors won’t mind.
We are worried about how sustainable this model is. Yes, we are returning to normal, but the volume seems to be taking a larger toll on the campus and community than it has in previous years. The university cannot continue to admit students at the rate it is when it doesn’t have a place to put them. What is going to happen when the normal class size becomes similar to the class of ’25?
We understand the financial consequence of why the university is accepting so many students; we know the university needs the tuition of the students it’s accepting. But in order to maintain this community, something is going to have to give. There needs to be serious action, otherwise the community will not be supported.