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Operation overflow: Oklahoma State grapples with full capacity at dorms

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Three boys crowd together on a small brown couch, their fingers clacking buttons on Xbox controllers. Several feet to their left, Luke Finn stares at a monitor with a headset and trash talks his friends while he blasts opponents on Call of Duty.

Behind the group, six beds separated by a few feet are split into rows of three. The clutter crowds the sixth-floor lounge of Wentz Hall at Oklahoma State University.

This isn’t a normal setup. Beds aren’t supposed to be in lounges. Each student should live in a traditional room with one roommate.Not now.

Full capacity in the traditional-style dorms, caused by a record freshmen class of 4,270 and a large number of returning residents forced OSU’s Housing and Residential Life department to find alternative methods. Classes begin Monday and dozens of students will temporarily live with unusual accommodations.

Leon McClinton, OSU’s director of Housing and Residential Life, led his staff and residents through the pandemic with limited issues. Now, he will lead roughly 6,000 residents through a period of no vacancy. 

Sam Walker, one of Finn’s five roommates, lies in his bed and speaks with positivity.

“I just got an email that said, ‘Congratulations, you’ve been assigned to lounge 6C from Oklahoma State,” Walker, a sophomore economics major said.

Confusion filled his mind. Soon, relief.

“I honestly view it as a good thing because I knew I was gonna live here but I thought it was going to be in the regular rooms,” Walker said.  “When I had the email and they decided to combine rooms, I thought it was a really good idea.”

His other roommates happened to be his pledge brothers from Sigma Nu. He won’t room with strangers. Instead, his “brothers.”

Against the opposite wall, dozens of shirts hang on several rolling racks like a clearance section at the back of a retail store. A half-eaten bag of Doritos sits next to the TV. Blue LED lights outline posters and flags featuring Ronald Reagan and Will Ferrell.

This is their home. For now.

Many factors contributed to this shortage. In the three traditional style halls — Iba, Stout and Wentz Hall — each floor features a combination of a typical two-person room and a private room. Not everyone lives with a roommate. That is changing, thanks to the record numbers.

McClinton and his staff aren’t kicking any one out. All students who applied for housing will get a bed in a temporary housing assignment.

Three options exist for the students unlucky enough to be caught in the overflow.

Finn and Walker’s crew settled in the floor lounges. Several roommates with little privacy. Every student in the traditional halls uses a community style bathroom so that privacy is already scarce.

The other temporary assignments are dependent on a resident.

“Some students signed up for a private room and these rooms are designed to accommodate two people,” McClinton said. “We have notified these students that were supposed to have private rooms that we’re moving somebody else in there and help them understand that we live by the Cowboy Code, and we hope that they will welcome this resident in their room.”

Community mentors, OSU’s version of a resident assistant, generally live without a roommate. Now, they will receive a weekly $100 stipend if they let a resident stay in their room. The students hosting someone in the private rooms will also be compensated, McClinton said.

“Students that are placed in the lounges are going to get their first month rent free,” McClinton said. “The students that have private rooms will also get their first month free.”

OSU isn’t the only campus with housing shortages. Many universities nationwide are experiencing similar issues and seeking solutions.

According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the University of Utah is paying alumni $5,000 to host a student because of its waiting list of nearly 3,500 students. According to the USA Today, students at large universities in major urban areas like Cal are looking at four digit monthly rental rates off-campus. While rent in Stillwater is much cheaper, Realpage reported that the price of off-campus student housing increase by 6% nationwide.

McClinton said no one is on the waitlist at OSU.

“We’re pretty much at a point where we’re still getting interest and requests, but we pretty much said, ‘We can’t take anyone else,’” he said.  

The record freshman class that features 4,270 new residents largely contributed to full capacity. A returning group of 1,250 students which is a 40% increase from last year’s number adds to the madness.

“We’ll receive cancelations up until the first few weeks of the semester,” McClinton said.  “That just happens every year. People will decide not to come. As we get those cancelations, we’ll move these students that in temporary assignments to permanent spaces as we get into the year.”

Sigma Nu pledges like Finn and Walker returned because their house is under construction.

"I was kinda bummed at the beginning because it kinda stinks being stuck in Wentz," Finn said. "Not the ideal situation. We got here and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I was going to. 

Both received the email and immediately combined their decorations and TVs to create a frat-like aesthetic.

“We can set it up however we want to,” Finn said. “We’re all cool with sleeping in the same room. We just hang out all the time.”

NBA jerseys held by hanger’s dangle from the ceiling. A male college student’s version of chandeliers.

The boys aren't sure how long they will stay in the lounge. Neither does McClinton. It's dependent on the number of students that drop their reservation or leave in between semesters. But for now, students must adapt. Just like they've done the past few years.

In between classes, Finn will cherish his time with his friends and bond through video games such as NBA2K and Call of Duty.

"I could beat all the dudes in this room, too," he said. "That’s a fact.”