Lower enrollment, food, and a focus on dorm occupancy


Alex Schoff

A low occupancy dorm hall at Sierra Nevada College.

Alex Schoff, Editor

On any college campus the students oftentimes feel the same way about dorm life: They want out of it. Sierra Nevada College is no exception. Some SNC students are choosing life off campus as soon as possible instead of living in the dorms, and it is starting to show in the numbers.

According to Lizzie Thibodeau, director of student affairs and housing on campus, the occupancy rate in the dorms was at 109.09% in the fall semester of 2016 compared to only 73.05% in the fall semester of 2019. While a great deal of this is due to a dwindling student body – this is a trend at small liberal arts colleges across the country – this decline also has something to do with students not wanting to live on campus. One reason, according to students, is the cafeteria food.

“The food situation in the cafeteria was terrible,” Cory Skaggs, an SNC sophomore who petitioned his way out of the dorms, said. “I lost 20 pounds in the first semester of my fresh- man year living in the dorms. Not because I wasn’t eating, but because I would have to use the restroom 10 to 15 minutes after I would finish the last bite of my meal.”

Skaggs isn’t alone in his experience. Many students have petitioned to leave because of the food.

“I wanted to leave because I eat a really particular way. I’m dairy and gluten free and I try
to avoid a lot of meat,” Malia Kellerman, an SNC sophomore who also petitioned her way
out of the dorms, said. “In the cafeteria there wasn’t a whole lot of options, and the stuff that was dairy and gluten free didn’t feel like it was because it was still making me really sick.”

The petition process can be long and difficult for non-student athletes because the voice of the athletic director carries a lot of weight in the housing department.

“I got a lot of help from Chris [DeLeon] because I’m involved on the soccer team,” Kellerman said. “I had to show a bunch of medical records and have doctors notes, so it was kind of a long process and I feel like it could’ve been handled a little better.”

When a student wants to petition out of the dorms for food reasons, the first step for that student is to talk to the workers in the cafeteria and see if any accommodations can be made. The cafeteria knows many students don’t like the food and they are willing to start a dialogue with the students, but it has to be a give and take. Students have to put in the work and tell the cafeteria what changes they want to see in order for those changes to come into effect. The cafeteria held a student forum recently to hear the concerns of students but only two showed up.

“I went to the student forum to give input and I was one of two people that showed up,” Cali Carlson, an SNC sophomore, said. “I was surprised. So many people complain about the food, but nobody showed up to say how they felt. I suggested putting hummus on the salad bar as an option in for possibly making sandwiches, and the next day at lunch there was hummus in the cafeteria. They are willing to listen and make changes you just have to speak up.”

Many students are also frustrated that there is a mandatory two-year rule to live in the dorms for all students under 21 or with under 60 credits. Many believe it is just to get more money and gain occupancy, but Shannon Beets, SNC’s Provost said it’s really about building the campus culture.

“That policy has been in place for years now,” Beets said. “And the reason we put
it in place to begin with was because we found that when students in their freshmen and sophomore year were living on cam- pus, they were more likely to get involved in on campus activities, they had better social adjustment and academic performance, and they were more likely to be retained and graduate.”

While SNC has problems in the dorms and in the cafeteria, it does acknowledge these issues and staff are working to fix them. However, these problems won’t be solved until the bigger issue of low enrollment is fixed. Once that happens the school will have a bigger budget and big changes can finally be made.

“[Improvements] have been thought about and I would love some extra cash to give you guys what I think would be great,” Thibodeau joked. “My perfect idea is a building that I would like to have funded and built. Obviously that takes a donor who wants to put their name on it. But what I would like to see happen is, existing in the dorms that we have, and then having another dorm that is three stories and designed with a kitchen, common room, the rooms, and then the bathroom. That would be my ideal space to give upperclassmen.”