Ill student falls through housing's cracks
Rinehart confident in reduced enrollment next year to ease housing crisis
While sophomore Alex Butta casually lounged in a folding chair, the florescent light in his Midrise suite bounced off his smoothly shaved head. The intimidating pirate flag hanging on the wall behind him could not compare to the eight-inch scar beginning at his left temple and ending at the base of his skull. "During the winter break of last year, I had a routine checkup with my doctor and they found that my brain tumor had grown to the size of a lemon, and that I needed to get immediate surgery," Butta said. "It would have lasted the entire month of January, at least, and because of that my doctors decided that I should not come back to Marist that semester, to just take it off."
Scratching at the fine bristles of hair poking through his scalp, a smile spread across his face. "In the end, it was for the best, because I had to get radiation and chemo," he said. "It's annoying," he added with a laugh.
Despite the fact that Butta is living in Midrise dormitory among other sophomores, he technically refers to himself as a second-year freshman. Fortunately for him though, at Marist College, the Department of Housing and Residential Life guarantees on-campus housing for all resident freshmen and sophomores. Or so he thought.
In the 2006-07 academic year, Butta's freshmen year, the college admitted about 1,100 applicants. Prior to that year, though, it only admitted 975 freshmen - a difference of 125 more resident students. Consequently, during the 2006-07 academic year, the Department of Housing and Residential Life had to place resident sophomores in housing typically reserved for upperclassmen, such as the Foy and New townhouses.
This year, the college scaled back the number of admitted applicants to 1,038. Still, that number is above 1,000, resulting in an imbalance of resident students and available housing.
"When they were saying on-campus housing, I was pretty much expecting maybe the worst of the freshmen dorms or something like that," Butta said. "But, of course, they never have leftovers."
"It's not by design," said Dean of Admission Kent Rinehart about the sudden population surge. "We have reduced the number of admits, at least for this past year."
In sharp contrast, the commuter population has increased this year by a margin of 60 percent according to Rinehart. "Recognizing the housing challenge that we have, we lowered the number of transfer residents we were admitting," Rinehart said.
However, predicting the number of freshmen applicants serious about Marist is a difficult estimate, according to Rinehart. "With the Internet now, it's kind of difficult to get a sense of what kids are really interested, which kids are not that interested," Rinehart explained. "For thirty to thirty-five percent of our applicants, their first contact with us is the application."
He later added, "They never went on a tour with us. We never met them at their high school. They never called up and said 'Mail me more information.'"
Describing the current housing situation as "very, very tight," Rinehart believes that any tension shall be relaxed by next year. "I feel very confident in saying that we are going to admit fewer students this year than we did this previous year in an effort to lower the resident number," he said.
By the 2008-09 academic year, the college will have built the Lower Fulton townhouses, capable of holding upwards of 260 residents, according to the Dept. of Housing and Residential Life.
Even so, Butta anticipated that the Department of Housing and Residential Life had made special accommodations for him after recuperating from chemotherapy. Fortunately, they did. Unfortunately, they were at the Marriott Residence Inn on Rt. 9 in Poughkeepsie, a full six miles away from campus.
"It's just not guaranteed," said Sarah H. English, the Director of Housing and Residential Life, about the availability of on-campus housing for resident students returning from a medical leave of absence. "They're told this by academic advising, who then report the leave to housing, and upon their return they are initially housed at the Inn until they can be accommodated more appropriately."
"Nobody," said English about the sophomore class, had been denied on-campus housing. Still, she also admitted it did not initially happen that way.
"We had a lot of sophomore spaces open up, particularly among females, this year," English said. Subsequently, almost all of the sophomores housed at the Inn were transferred onto campus right away.
"We [housing] would prefer to help those with transportation issues," English added.
"I don't have car. In fact, I don't even have a driver's license," Butta indicated. "I am blinded on the right sides of both eyes, so, it's going to take me sometime to get a car, if ever."
Yet, transportation issues aside, Butta also had to contend living with total strangers once again. "I was freaking out," Butta recalled, "Because, I was like, oh my God, people who didn't have enough priority points, rejects, and stuff."
"But, then of course, I didn't ever really think of the good side," he said. He often wondered, "Well, what if there are people just like me?"
In the end, Butta managed to find a last-minute opening with his friends in Midrise a week before the start of the semester. "It was hard enough, because with all of the surgery and stuff, it was really hard to talk to my friends anyway," Butta said. "Even just coming back here, I was already worried that all the friends I made had forgotten about me, which of course wasn't true."
Still, Butta is somewhat disappointed about the way housing handled his initial request. "They just told me that somehow my name, or slip, or whatever fell through somewhere and they just forgot about me and I ended up in the hotel," he said. "I was forgotten."
However, in spite of all that has happened, Butta is extremely happy that things eventually worked out the way they did. "This is my ideal of what I wanted to happen," he said. "When I heard about all the housing and how to get it freshmen year, being in Midrise was my number one choice."
Stretching, his eyes scanned the entire length of the room. "For that to come true was, like, wow," he said.
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