5C students in off-campus apartments grapple with sense of displacement

The exterior of the Oasis Apartments under clear skies.
Oasis Commons is housing Pomona College students for the fall semester to cope with overburdened on-campus housing options. (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

As the Claremont Colleges navigate a return to on-campus learning following 18 months online, some students are still learning how to navigate the commute from their off-campus housing accommodations to their classrooms. 

Due to larger first-year enrollment, students electing to take gap years and the pause on fall study abroad programs, 5C administrations reserved space in apartment complexes around Claremont to cope with overburdened on-campus housing options, making the fall semester markedly different as more than 450 students across the 5Cs are living in off-campus rooms provided by their colleges.

TSL sat down with students at each of the 5Cs to learn about off-campus housing situations and which accommodations the campuses are providing.

Claremont McKenna College

At Claremont McKenna College, 92 students are housed this fall in the Alexan Kendry apartments, which are about 1.5 miles from campus in neighboring Montclair, CMC spokesperson Gilien Silsby said via email.

According to Marcus Lindsey CM ’23, students were housed in Kendry through CMC’s standard room draw process. Kendry housing was available to students of all grades, but it ended up housing mostly juniors, as they drew rooms after seniors and on-campus housing was prioritized for freshmen and sophomores who had not lived on campus yet.

Rooms in Kendry range from singles to quadruples. Lindsey lives in a two bedroom triple with a bathroom, kitchen and living room.

CMC provides a shuttle to and from campus that runs every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., then every 30 minutes until 1 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday and until 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. An additional shuttle to the nearby Target runs on Sundays.

“At first it was really awkward getting used to taking the shuttle,” Lindsey said, explaining that they had to adjust to planning on-campus and at-home days. “I’m getting into more of a groove [now] … it’s getting better.”

A handful of friends living on campus helps them stay engaged with the school community. 

“I wouldn’t say that I feel like I’m missing out on campus life. But I would say that I am lucky,” they said.

Pomona College

About 100 Pomona College students are housed in Keck Graduate Institute’s Oasis Commons apartment complex for the fall semester, following a tumultuous housing process that left some students unsure of where they would be living for most of the summer. 

Now a month in, some students are experiencing ongoing difficulties with transportation and engaging with campus life, while others have been able to adjust and enjoy the benefits of off-campus housing.

Oasis was “an early part of the plan” for student housing, Dean of Campus Life Josh Eisenberg said in an email. According to Eisenberg, students of all grade levels are housed in Oasis, but the vast majority of them are juniors and seniors, a decision intended to prioritize on-campus housing for first-years and sophomores who have never been on campus before.

“As of now we continue to plan to house Oasis students in traditional Pomona residential spaces for the Spring 2022 semester,” Eisenberg said. 

Some space is expected to become available as second-semester seniors graduate and study abroad programs restart.

While some students elected to live in Oasis during room draw, enticed by the quality of rooms and amenities, others ended up there because of late room draw times. And some students did not find out until mid-July that they had been transferred from the on-campus rooms they had drawn.

Many students initially had negative reactions to being placed in Oasis. Anna Leven PO ’23 was nervous that Oasis’ distance from campus would make it harder to maintain relationships with other students. 

“I was kind of annoyed … and also a bit nervous about what that would mean for this semester for me,” she said. 

Students have also found difficulty scheduling their travel to and from campus. 

Pomona provides a shuttle between Oasis and campus that runs every 15 minutes until 11 p.m. on weekdays and 9 p.m. on weekends.

According to Leven, the physical distance changes the community feel she was used to from living on campus previously. 

“We’re not really part of the campus community anymore … it definitely makes it more difficult when you have to take 20 minutes to go home after a night out.” —Anna Leven

“We’re not really part of the campus community anymore … it definitely makes it more difficult when you have to take 20 minutes to go home after a night out,” she said. “It sometimes cuts social interactions that may have gone on for longer or may have developed in a different way.”

For Graham Hirsch PO ’24, who took a gap year after the pandemic sent him home, the distance has had the opposite effect. 

“If anything, it’s forced me to be more part of [the school community], because I have to be on campus until 11 p.m., in someone’s room or practicing music or something and then I walk home. My freshman year, I’d be in my dorm room starting at after dinner,” he said.

While Hirsch said he finds the shuttle convenient and doesn’t mind walking when he needs to, he acknowledges that his experience isn’t shared by all students.

Until Sept. 10, the shuttle only ran until 10 p.m. on weeknights and 6 p.m. on weekends. 

Kathy Shepherd PO ’24 also said she felt frustrated with the limited shuttle times, noting safety concerns about walking alone late at night if she misses the last shuttle. 

“Especially after the mugging that happened two weeks ago, I don’t even feel comfortable walking alone at night anymore,” she said, citing the robbery assault that occurred on Dartmouth Avenue Sept. 4.

While the shuttle’s hours were eventually extended, Shepherd said the administration seemed to be “dealing with one fire at a time” when it came to addressing Oasis residents’ concerns.

Ben Jones PO ’23 expressed uncertainty that enough rooms will free up for him to return to on-campus housing in the spring.

“There’s a snowball’s chance in hell we’ll be moved back to campus in the spring; with COVID, with the general attitudes of people who I know were eager to go study abroad, saying that they will probably be delaying it until after the pandemic is over,” Jones said.

The last-minute switch was frustrating, Jones added, especially as an international student.

“When this is about where I will be living, in a town where I know no one, in a country that is … not my home and a campus that I have not been engaged with for a year … that’s not something that you can just tell me weeks before I arrive.”—Ben Jones

“When this is about where I will be living, in a town where I know no one, in a country that is … not my home and a campus that I have not been engaged with for a year … that’s not something that you can just tell me weeks before I arrive,” he said. “It was a really massive source of anxiety and I think that it’s important that people recognize that that was a bad thing.”

Eisenberg said the administration is taking steps to respond to the various concerns. 

“We created an Oasis email address and just hired an Oasis Student Liaison who begins next week,” he said.

Considering the current pandemic-related circumstances, many students are acknowledging the difficulty that Pomona’s administration faced in making housing arrangements. 

“I don’t know if I can blame the administration for anything. I don’t think they had any other options,” Leven said.

Pitzer College 

The Claremont Collegiate Apartments are home to 150 Pitzer students this semester, Director of Residence Life Kirsten Carrier said in an email. The complex, northeast of the 5Cs across Foothill Boulevard, began its master lease with Pitzer in fall 2019. With a sizable first-year and sophomore class, Pitzer leased 50 additional bed spaces this year at CCA to accommodate increased student housing needs. 

A majority of CCA student residents are juniors and seniors, with first-years and sophomores prioritized for on-campus housing. Still, 18 percent of those living at CCA are sophomores this semester. Although most sophomores had no prior experience living on campus, first-years were given ultimate priority in on-campus housing. 

Pitzer students living at CCA have found transportation to be a source of concern. Students without cars or other means of transportation have to commit to the mile-long walk to and from campus. 

Pitzer provides a shuttle that operates on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays between the hours of 6 p.m. and 2 a.m. 

Nethmin Liyanage PZ ’24 brought up safety concerns with the transportation options, citing instances of catcalling on her walks to class. She said she feels like she must choose between her safety and social life on a daily basis.

“I feel like students have to make choices that they shouldn’t have to make given that they were forced into this housing arrangement by the school,” she said. 

Other students expressed frustration at cultivating a social life while living at CCA. 

Jadon Piha PZ ’24 felt his mental health worsen due to what he described as the disconnected nature of living off campus. He was involuntarily placed at CCA and added that the apartment complex was his last choice during the housing process. 

After requesting a room change, Piha was able to move to Atherton Hall, an on-campus residential hall, during the first week of September. 

“I was at the point where in a month, if I was gonna be housed there, I was gonna defer for a year,” he said. 

Carrier said that engagement with student feedback has been key to the decision-making process regarding transportation, which they hope to continue to improve.

Pitzer has reached out to the other 5Cs in hopes of formulating “a united approach to shuttle transportation services for our students,” she said, and it’s working to share costs and extend shuttle services using student feedback on existing shuttle operations.

Harvey Mudd College

Off-campus housing for Harvey Mudd is located in the Arrow Vista complex, east of the College Park Apartments. Mudd spokesperson Judy Augsburger said via email that the suites were a popular option for students, being taken quickly during room draw. 

First-years and sophomores were prioritized for on-campus housing, with primarily juniors and seniors housed at Arrow Vista. Twenty-one Mudd students live at Arrow Vista, with 10 in personally-arranged off-campus housing. 

Yuki Wang HM ’22 chose to live in an Arrow Vista apartment rather than an on-campus suite. Wang shares a townhouse-style unit with a friend and a randomly-assigned roommate. 

The amenities have exceeded her expectations, Wang said.

“I was honestly kind of shocked when I moved in on the first day because the kitchen looks super new, even the fridge looks newer than the Mudd suite fridges,” she said. 

Living off campus has also meant Wang has to spend more time working on campus rather than in her dorm, but this hasn’t bothered her. 

“Finding [spaces to work] has not been a problem for me, and I don’t mind voices, so I wouldn’t say it has been a lot of trouble,” she said.

In past years, Harvey Mudd’s administration has made it more difficult to access off-campus housing, Madelyn Andersen HM ’22 said. However, with more students on campus following the last two remote semesters, Mudd decided to allow students to make off-campus arrangements of their own, as Andersen has for her senior year. 

Scripps College

Scripps College students were also placed at Claremont Collegiate Apartments this year. With the decision to limit housing to singles and doubles, Scripps faced an increasing need for off-campus housing. The college reserved a building at CCA which can house up to 120 students. Scripps did not respond to multiple requests for the exact number of students placed in off-campus housing. 

Elsie Dank SC ’23 was concerned by the lack of on-campus housing available for juniors and seniors this fall. Hopeful to secure a suite on campus with six other friends, Dank was disappointed to find all rooms taken when her room draw time came. 

“I felt really frustrated that as an upperclassman I was getting forced to live off campus…” he said. 

She noted that building more on-campus housing could address the issue. Scripps is no stranger to housing constraints, having moved students off campus in recent years.

“I feel like we’re not getting the same social atmosphere. And I think we all are outsourcing our social dynamics to the campuses. And so we have to go away from home in order to be in a social sphere, which is a little bit disappointing.”—Elsie Dank

“I feel like we’re not getting the same social atmosphere. And I think we all are outsourcing our social dynamics to the campuses. And so we have to go away from home in order to be in a social sphere, which is a little bit disappointing,” said Dank. 

Scripps provides a shuttle that runs seven days a week.

Some students, like Jenna Wu-Cardona SC ’23, appreciate the independent nature of living off campus. 

“After having taken a year off, I feel like being in such a bubble all the time would be a little bad,” Wu-Cardona said. “But it’s definitely not the same as living on campus.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly said 18 percent of Pitzer sophomores are living at CCA. In fact, 18 percent of those living at CCA are sophomores. TSL regrets this error. 

This article was updated Oct. 1 at 11:05 a.m.

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