Aided by their families, dozens of teenagers lugged suitcases and snowboards, boxes and laundry baskets into dormitories Thursday to start their new lives as Southern Oregon University students.

Aided by their families, dozens of teenagers lugged suitcases and snowboards, boxes and laundry baskets into dormitories Thursday to start their new lives as Southern Oregon University students.

"It will be one of the largest classes in housing in the last 20 years," said Jason Ebbeling, director of housing and residential life.

Preliminary enrollment numbers show a 20 percent increase in students living in the residence halls. Some 1,050 students can be housed on campus, and more than 900 already are registered to move in this year. The final count won't be available until school starts on Monday and all the late-comers get settled.

"We are at 98 to 99 percent occupancy for most of the halls," Eldridge said.

The number of students returning to live in the residence halls is also up, from about 50 students in past years to nearly 300 this year.

"All the dorms are popular to different people for different reasons," said Jon Eldridge, vice president of student affairs.

Gloriana Pillsbury, 18, moved into Greensprings Hall near the playing fields because of the number of athletes who live there.

"It's important to be in an active dorm," said Pillsbury, a pre-nursing student.

Helping Pillsbury move were her parents, Denise and John, of South Lake Tahoe, Calif.

"I'm so excited for her. It's a great campus, very safe," Denise said. "I love Ashland. It's fun for us to come up here and visit."

Resident assistants and student volunteers were on hand to direct the new students to their rooms. Each residence hall has at least one RA for every 30 students.

In the Cascade Complex, just up the hill from Greensprings Hall, Jeff Wilson helped brother Josh move into Diamond Hall.

Josh Wilson, an Eagle Point resident, said he's excited "to meet everyone, make new friends and experience college the way it should be."

He said he came prepared with the "essentials" — two kinds of disco balls and a black light.

Wilson and the other freshmen will spend the next four days adjusting to their new surroundings and keeping busy with orientation activities. Some activities are longtime traditions, such as the Raiders' home football game and family salmon bake on Saturday. Others are new, such as Thursday's Black Feather Ceremony.

"We are focusing on new student rituals," said Ebbeling.

The Black Feather Ceremony is a continuation of a summer ceremony during which students received a white feather. These feathers represent the development of the students as they take on the responsibilities of a college education. Later they will receive a red feather in honor of SOU's mascot, a red-tailed hawk.

Eldridge explained that the red-tailed hawk is born with all white feathers. A Native American myth says the hawk gets its red feathers when it matures and gains wisdom.

"The Black Feather Ceremony is to have a serious conversation about the responsibilities of your education," Eldridge said.

Convocation, on Friday night, is another established tradition in which students are formally introduced to the faculty.

With all the activities, the teenagers will have a better chance of adjusting to their new home and new lives as college students.

"It's really helpful to students before they hit the books to build relationships," Eldridge said.

He expects close to 1,000 students will participate over the weekend.

"My guess is it will be standing-room-only at the stadium," he said.

Reach reporter Johanna Thompson at 541-482-3456, ext. 225.