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New dorms welcome first residents

This fall, about 300 students moved into New Hall, the newest dorm building. Part of the Ole Avenue project, this residence hall was meant to address St. Olaf’s ongoing housing shortage. Most of New Hall’s rooms are suites, which have two rooms connected by a bathroom. The building boasts multiple kitchens, fireplaces, and an abundance of spaces for studying and socializing.

New Hall resident Lauren Vilendrer ’23 said that she enjoys living in a newly built dorm where all the facilities are unused and in good working condition. For Rachel Dumont ’24, the biggest benefits of the building are the air conditioning, multitude of study spaces, and the bathrooms attached to the rooms.

However, residents are not sure what to make of the unpainted concrete ceilings in the dorm rooms, which Vilendrer and her friends affectionately call “prison chic.” Located on the easternmost edge of campus, students must climb the Hill in order to reach academic buildings. Both Dumont and Vilendrer mentioned this uphill walk as a challenge, especially when hungry or already late to class. 

At the core of St. Olaf’s mission is fostering a lively residential campus community, but this has been complicated in recent years due to the housing shortage, pandemic, and the fact that the Class of 2026 is the largest in the College’s history. In an email, Associate Dean of Students Pamela McDowell said that the college has no intention of continuing to increase enrollment. She expects that once next year’s scheduled Hillboe-Kittelsby renovation is completed, there will be more than enough room for students on campus, and off campus housing numbers will thus dwindle.

Vilendrer took issue with how challenging it is for students to get approved to live off campus. She was one of many whose off-campus housing plans were not approved by McDowell last spring, leaving her and her friends scrambling to choose where to live. “An important part of preparing to be an adult after college is learning how to live on your own, and I don’t think that this school is giving enough opportunities to do that,” Vilendrer said. If the COVID-19 pandemic pushed students off campus, administration priorities seem to favor reversing that trend, to the delight of some and the frustration of others.