Design-your-own floors see varied success in first term

by Chris Leech | 10/30/14 7:59pm

Seven weeks after the first design-your-own living learning communities took up residence across campus, participants report varying levels of engagement with their floormates, with certain floors providing more programming and a stronger sense of community.

Last spring, students pitched floor ideas for the 2014-15 academic year, ranging a from Harry Potter-themed floor known as “Muggles for Magical Awareness” to a floor on culinary cultural exchange. While the office of residential life originally planned to approve three to four proposals, they approved 10 after receiving more applications than expected, said Katharina Daub, assistant director of residential education for living learning programs and academic initiatives.

Daub said the design-your-own program expects students to provide programming for their residents, but that there are no formal rules about how often floors must meet for activities.

While Daub originally planned to review the communities after each term — possibly replacing communities that are “fizzling” — communities that have run less programming will continue to exist all year but may not be able to choose new residents. Instead, the housing office will fill vacancies.

Some coordinators have found that the fast-paced, 10-week term kept them too busy to plan many activities for their floors, Daub said.

“They’re not finding enough time to create content for themselves,” she said. “Dartmouth terms move too fast — there’s almost zero opportunity for me to give feedback to coordinators and allow them to make changes before I make a decision.”

On the whole, however, Daub said the program has been a success for participants.

“They’re thriving,” Daub said. “They love the opportunity to live together and go deeper into a particular topic of interest.”

Most programming has centered on floor meetings and meals with faculty.

Michael Baicker ’17, coordinator for the river conservation floor, said he and his floormates have held a faculty dinner, a river cleanup trip and screening of a documentary about dams.

Baicker said he was pleased with the program so far.

“It’s changing the residential education experience for upperclassmen,” Baicker said. “If Dartmouth wants to refocus on the community, this program is great.”

Funding for design-your-own programming proposals goes through Student Initiated Programs, or SIPS, which is also available to students living on regular floors, Daub said. But students have also found alternate means of funding events.

Baicker said he financed the river cleanup through his membership with the Ledyard Canoe Club, which covered expenses for trip participants, and received a meal card from Daub for his professor dinner.

His community director estimated an informal yearly SIPS budget of $250, Baicker said, adding that this number might limit the programming he is able to plan with his community.

“I’m planning events that don’t exceed $50,” he said. “If I had $750 for a year, I could do a lot more with that. I knew I would have a budget, but I thought it would be more.”

Daub said she has not heard of projects costing more than $30 to $50, but that if students need more money, she could funnel more to the appropriate community director.

She said that she decided to use SIPS to fund the design-your own communities because the approval structure was already in place. Students can submit proposals online indicating estimated cost and plans for how the money will be spent. These are then approved by the community director.

Baicker added that he had applied for SIPS funding to create shirts for his floor, but that this application was denied because it was not a community-building expense — a decision he disagreed with.

“Unifying the floor through apparel is a bonding activity for people,” he said.

Jennifer Davidson ’15, the student coordinator for the Herbifloor, an ethical eating floor, said her experience with the initiative has not been entirely positive. Programming has largely comprised weekly floor meetings that have not required money, but she said the group faced difficulty in one instance when they tried to secure funding.

“Honestly, I thought we were going to have an actual budget,” Davidson said.

The floor, which occupies only half of New Hampshire Hall’s first floor, has also faced issues with finding space to meet, Davidson said. She added that she had hoped to have a bulletin board and a weekly meeting space. Instead, she usually stakes out the floor’s study lounge on the days her residents plan to meet.

“We don’t really have our own space.” Davidson said. “It’s not really Herbifloor, it’s a few people living together. That’s been a challenge.”

Eileen Diggins ’15, student coordinator for “The Other Reed Hall,” an interdisciplinary education-themed floor, praised the support she has received from Daub in planning events and providing advice.

The group holds weekly floor meetings with presentations from its members on topics like Diwali and salsa dancing.

She said that the program has worked to foster a sense of community in the floor that may be missing from other residential life arrangements for upperclassmen.