This year, enrollment at Knox College has officially reached 1,407 students. This is the highest enrollment since 1971 and well above the 1,350 students that was the targeted maximum number of students these past years.
Though a high retention rate and interest in attending Knox is celebrated during economically difficult times, the overload of students has created several unique problems for the campus. These issues include finding more space for students to live, study, work and relax in, as well as accommodating space for the influx of student clubs and Greek organizations sprouting up around campus.
“[Knox College] is completely maxed out in terms of footage,” said Dean of Students Xavier Romano. “The lack of space creates ad hoc solutions.”
In the past, such solutions to space problems included moving first-year students into upper class housing in the spaces temporarily left by students traveling abroad, mixing rehearsal space between the fine arts and sharing closets as well as meeting rooms and practice fields.
“Space is probably the biggest premium we have here,” said Romano. “It’s become more significant with the growth of the institution.”
In addition to needing space for student activities, the growth in the student body has prompted the need for larger classroom space and more professors on campus, all of whom need an on-campus office. When Romano first began working at Knox in 1998, he remembers watching the deans tour the campus to find extra office space or closets they had forgotten about in order to accommodate growing needs.
“There are no more nooks and crannies to be found,” said Romano. “There’s no way to gain space now without taking space away.”
Over the past four years, as the campus has grown, several solutions have been discussed to alleviate the stress on current campus space, including revamping Ferris Lounge in order to make it a more comfortable and accessible meeting space.
There have also been several discussions about how to rebuild Wallace Lounge after a flood destroyed it in the spring of 2007. Since it was flooded, that area, once used for club meetings and open area for student activities, has not been rebuilt and was used only temporarily as a space for the free store. Even when developed, however, Wallace Lounge will offer only a limited amount of space.
“In my thinking, there is a giant lynch pin in all this and that lynch pin is called Alumni Hall,” said Romano. “It needs to be active. It needs to have a life of its own.”
Alumni Hall has been used only marginally since 1978 and is currently completely closed for renovations. In order for the building to be opened, Knox needs to raise enough money for the renovations to occur.
In addition to the lack of housing and activity space on campus, Knox is also one of the few colleges without a clearly defined student union which could be used as a meeting area for study groups, a gathering place for friends and a facility to rent electronics or games.
Members of the college administration and Student Senate have also been looking into solutions about how to reevaluate the housing lottery, traditionally held in the spring and allowed for all students who will be on campus at some point throughout the year. The current system allows students traveling abroad or taking a leave of absence to reserve a space on campus for when they return.
Romano said the system was designed for the time when Knox was at 70 percent capacity and was able to accommodate students who wished to take time away from campus. Now, all the beds are filled, including those spaces that are reserved for the 165 students currently studying abroad. When they return, students will need to be shuffled around in order to have a space to stay while on campus.
“We just have to rethink some of our systems, given our capacity,” said Romano.
Even with the lack of space, students, professors and organizations have been able to make do with their current situation, even if it is not ideal.
“We can function with what we have,” said Romano. “We get a lot out of it. We could get more out of it.”