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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Residents in Residence: Shortage of space in UW residence halls leaves students concerned about housing crisis

Rising student population leads to cramped dorm rooms, high demand for food, more disease transmission
Caroline Crowley

Residence halls at the University of Wisconsin are packed with students effectively sardine-canned into much smaller spaces than even notoriously tight two-person rooms.

Rooms meant to comfortably accommodate two students may now house three, and this year’s largest-ever freshman class at UW pushed residence halls on campus to their limit.

The increase has created a housing shortage in the UW Residence Halls, shoving students like freshman Whitman Bottari into dorm rooms with more people than they’re built to hold.


Bottari likes her roommates, but she admits that three girls living in a two-bed dorm room can be less than ideal.

“My dorm is definitely pretty spacious so we’re lucky with that, but it is a little cramped,” she said. “Like the closets are made for two people, not three.”

Bottari said that out of the three girls who live together, two have a bunk bed and one sleeps in a lofted bed on the other side of the room. 

In the past decade, the university has made several attempts to increase the capacity of UW residence halls while also making the campus more appealing to prospective students. Some of these efforts included building Dejope, a newer residence hall on the campus’s lakeshore side. UW has also renovated two southeast dorms, Sellery and Witte

These attempts have driven up both the enrollment numbers and the capacity of the residence halls, according to UW Housing. But now, students are out-enrolling UW’s efforts to change the halls.

Once UW had a clear picture of the enrollment numbers for the 2022-2023 freshman class, they encouraged some returning students to live off-campus, UW Housing spokesperson Brendon Dybdahl said in an email to The Badger Herald.

Earlier this year, UW housing residents had the option of applying to return to the residence halls for the 2023-24 school year if they chose, Dybdahl said. 

Dybdahl said the university is working hard to ensure that students are able to be successful and comfortable in their new homes despite the tight squeeze. 

He said the university has also expanded some academic services, such as its advising capacity, to be able to serve a greater number of new students.

“The Division of Enrollment Management works closely with multiple campus partners, including Housing, to make sure that the level of services meets student demand,” Dybdahl said. “UW–Madison has adapted by expanding advising capacity and reconfiguring spaces in residence halls to accommodate incoming students.”

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The Southeast Dorms

In 2017, UW began a renovation of Witte residence hall on the university’s southeast side to correct mechanical problems, improve resident living spaces and upgrade the building’s facilities. The project was finished in 2019, according to UW Housing.

Until then, the building had been standing since 1964 with few major improvements. 

Despite being well-loved and popular, Witte had been mocked for decades before the renovation project began for its outdated features and grungy appearance. Already the largest residence hall on campus, the renovation added another floor of dorm rooms to the top of the building, according to UW Housing.

The Witte renovation replaced and improved the heating, ventilation and cooling systems, and also replaced and upgraded much of the electrical, plumbing, security and fire safety systems, according to UW Housing.

Sellery Residence Hall, next door to Witte, is receiving a similar makeover. The project began in May 2020 and is slated for completion in August. Like Witte, Sellery has also been given another floor —  for now, the new floor will house students displaced by the construction work on other levels.

Dybdahl said in the past few years, rooms have been converted to house more students. He said that careful consideration is used when deciding which rooms will become triples and quads, and that bathroom ratios, building codes and staff support resources are all taken into account.

UW freshmen Sabine Dolan-Gaschignard and Eliana Monat both live in rooms for two people in Witte, with one roommate each.

They said that though they lucked out with their housing arrangements, some students in their dorm are less fortunate. Dolan-Gaschignard said several students are in quadruple rooms, which are former dens and common areas that have been turned into rooms for four people.

Monat said she knows several people who were placed into converted triples in other dorms.

“I know people from my high school who just applied for a random roommate and asked for a two-bed,” she said. “And they got placed with two other roommates in a three-bed. And if they chose a roommate, they would get placed in a three-bed with the roommate that they chose and another roommate.”

A Lakeshore Perspective

Dejope housed 408 students when it first opened in 2012, all in double rooms, according to Dybdahl. This year, he said 598 students live in Dejope.

“In recent years, as enrollment increased, we have gradually converted many of these rooms into triples and converted some dens into quads,” Dybdahl said. 

Dejope Residence Hall in the university’s lakeshore area was built to accommodate the university’s ever-increasing enrollment numbers, according to UW. 

Completed in 2012, Dejope is one of the campus’s newest dorms. Students have open study spaces with large windows that give them a view of the lake. There is also a dining hall in the lower level, Four Lakes Market, which serves students from at least six residence halls.

But because there are so many new students, even Dejope is getting a little cramped, Bottari said.

Bottari said the crowding in Dejope has made her floor more social, which she appreciates — everyone on her floor knows each other and gets along, and that they all go down to the dining hall in groups.

“I really enjoy [hanging out with] the people in my dorm, and I got super lucky with my floor. I know some of the other floors aren’t quite as social but everyone comes up to our floor to hang out, because we’re the coolest,” she said.

But Bottari said that her largely positive experience isn’t universal by any means, and that some people on her floor are struggling to get along with their roommates. 

“Looking at the rest of the dorm, I feel like it’s not working out as well for some people,” she said. 

Pandemic Precautions

Freshman Dolan-Gaschingnard said the fact that UW is willing to cram students into residence halls so soon after cracking down on student-to-student contact during the COVID-19 pandemic is strange.

As recently as last winter, masking and social distancing guidelines were in place in UW residence halls. Restrictions on gatherings ended last year on March 12, according to the events policy section of UW’s COVID-19 response page. 

Bottari said that despite the crowding, there haven’t been many cases of COVID-19 in Dejope so far, but that other seasonal viruses spread quickly.

“Quite a few colds,” Bottari said. “And everyone’s kind of given them to each other. I currently have a cold that I think I got from one of my roommates.”

Bottari also said students aren’t doing much to mitigate the spread of this so-called “freshman flu.” When someone’s sick in their room, they try to clean surfaces more often — but, as a whole dorm, not much is being done.

Dolan-Gaschignard said she’s also been sick a few times, making it hard to concentrate on her schoolwork.

She said it’s extremely difficult to quarantine when living in tight quarters with a large group of people living in the same dorm room and using the same bathroom, and most people just assume them and all of their roommates will get sick if one of them comes down with something.

The same goes for COVID-19, Dolan-Gaschinard said.

“I know for a lot of people, they just have to stay in their rooms,” she said. “And then their roommate is just … assuming that they’re going to get COVID as well. And since everyone’s sick at this point, you don’t really know who has [COVID-19] and who doesn’t.”

Dolan-Gaschignard also said the university has been unclear on the protocol for what a student in the residence halls should do if they come down with COVID-19. 

UW’s COVID-19 response page recommends keeping up-to-date on vaccinations, including booster shots, and that antigen and PCR tests, as well as COVID-19 vaccines, are available free of charge to students and staff members. 

The university’s close contact and isolation page advises students to stay home if they have COVID-19, and that students in residence halls will be provided with isolation space. They also have a page where students in dorms who have COVID-19 may submit a temporary housing request.

Crowded Common Spaces

Bottari said that one thing that has been complicated by her living situation is her ability to study. She said she’ll go outside of the building to avoid the multitude of people inside.

“There are hallway pods [in Dejope] that you can study in, but for me it’s really distracting with everyone walking past,” she said. “But at night the study area [in the dorm] becomes pretty quiet, which is nice,” she said.

A growing population in the dorms has also created more traffic in the UW dining halls, often causing longer lines for food, food shortages and general frustration.

“The worst thing about this is the dining halls,” Monat said. 

Dolan-Gaschignard, who is vegetarian, said that many of the food stands will stop serving the vegetarian option at certain times, and that it can be easy to miss. 

Gordon’s is the primary southeast dining hall, and it serves students in Witte, Sellery and Ogg. 

Bottari said in her neck of the woods, she’s able to get enough food, even though Four Lakes can get busy at certain times of the day.

“There are definitely decent-sized lines during the rush hours,” Bottari said. “But they usually have enough food. Sometimes it’s just hard to find seats.”

Dolan-Gaschignard said that sometimes if she wants to study in one of the common areas late at night, it’s hard to find any seats. Even though there are libraries to study in, she isn’t always comfortable making the walk over to one late in the evening. 

“I’m fine leaving [to go to the library],” she said. “It’s just that sometimes you don’t want to leave at night.”

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The Future of UW Housing

Many freshmen, and UW students in general, are concerned about the quickly-increasing student population causing a housing shortage in the campus area and greater Madison. 

Bottari said she appreciates the university’s efforts to house students, but the living situation that most people are experiencing in the dorms isn’t sustainable over the long-term, and most people would rather find apartments than squash into tiny dorm rooms.

Dolan-Gaschignard and Monat have signed a lease for next year, but said the number of students looking for off-campus housing made their search extremely chaotic, and they had to find housing very early in the school year.

They said when they were looking at apartments, the tour guide said this year places were filling up especially fast.

“I think it’s just going to be [from now on] earlier and earlier if you want to sign anything,” Dolan-Gaschigard said.

Dolan-Gaschignard said that as of now, she doesn’t think small changes will solve the housing problem.

“I think the dorms are just going to continue to get more and more crowded, even when Sellery is renovated,” she said.

Dolan-Gaschignard said she’s concerned about off-campus prices skyrocketing because of the increasing student population as well.

She’s worried that greater demand will drive up prices, and that they’ll stay like that even after the university increases their housing capacity to be able to house greater numbers of new students.

“I mean, housing is getting more expensive, and there’s no rent control, and the more demand, the higher it’s gonna go,” Dolan-Gaschignard said. “It’s just not going to be affordable anymore. Not that it is now.”

Dybdahl said that once UW had a clear picture of the enrollment numbers for the 2022-23 freshman class, the university offered incentives for returning students to live off-campus, including $5,000 for housing costs and a free meal plan. 

Students were also offered free living quarters in the Eagle Heights community, which typically house graduate students. But, Dybdahl said that hasn’t made the dorms much less crowded. 

There were 8,628 students in this fall’s enrolled class, according to UW News. Dybdahl said the university’s plan is to decrease enrollment for next year to be able to accommodate all incoming students. 

“The enrollment target for next fall’s incoming freshman class is about 500 fewer than this year,” Dybdahl said in an email to The Badger Herald. “We’re expecting another large increase in applications this year, which will necessitate admitting even fewer students for next year’s class.”  

Dybdahl added that the university has been in discussions with the Department of Administration and other related departments about expanding future options for on-campus housing.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to reflect that there are no triple dorm rooms in Witte and provide updated information from UW Housing.

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