Hsu: Where is the Air Conditioning?

by Caroline Hsu | 5/21/15 8:32pm

Although complaints about Hanover weather typically involve phrases such as “brutally cold” and “subzero temperatures,” students and faculty are now faced with a very different issue. With spring in full bloom and summer just around the corner, the sweltering heat is beginning to replace the freezing cold. To make the situation worse, almost all dorms are devoid of central air-conditioning, and per Office of Residential Life policies, students are not allowed to have personal air-conditioning units in College housing. As temperatures rise, window fans are a staple in nearly every room.

While one could argue that the financial toll of having a central air-conditioning system renders it unrealistic, I beg to differ. With an annual cost of attendance exceeding $67,000, with housing alone accounting for more than $8,500, I’m sure that there is room in the budget for proper air-conditioning for less than half of the year. The allocation of funds should be reevaluated so as to provide air-conditioning for all dorms during the warmer seasons. Given how it can affect our mood, our studies and our health, students’ physical comfort should be considered one of the College’s top priorities.

A core reason why the College should provide air-conditioned dormitories is one that is unique to our campus. I am referring, of course, to sophomore summer. In the peak of the summer, when temperatures can exceed 90 degrees, students must endure the stifling humidity without any reprieve from going inside. If we are mandated to stay on campus in the summer, it is ridiculous that our rooms do not have any cooling mechanisms beyond fans that we must buy ourselves.

According to the heating/air-conditioning policy page on the College’s website, “as a general policy, the College does not provide comfort air-conditioning unless it is an integral part of the building design.” I wonder who is to say whether or not air-conditioning is an “integral part of the building design.” That policy seems to be an arbitrary one, and the reality is that if the heat is so uncomfortable for students that it is distracting, there should be air-conditioning in our dorms. I have spoken to many fellow students about these concerns. Sophomore summer aside, many report having trouble sleeping even during the spring, while others say they try to spend as little time in their room as possible — again, all because of the heat.

To make the problem worse, it is against College policies to use air-conditioners in any of the dormitories, with a $50 fine for any student who violates this rule. Personal air-conditioning units are only allowed in privately-owned Greek and society houses, and even then, it is often at the individual cost of the resident. We are not only denied air-conditioning, but we are also prevented from trying to fix the problem ourselves. While there is the potential for issues to arise if students begin installing their own air-conditioners, the College should deal with this on a case-by-case basis, rather than enforcing a sweeping ban against them.

If students are to live in their dorms and take classes when it is exceedingly hot outside, then it only follows that air-conditioners should be installed. Uncomfortable living situations can make working and even sleeping nearly impossible. One of my friends has recounted countless nights from her sophomore summer wherein she could not fall asleep because her room was so hot — open windows and her personal fan did nothing to help — and then had to go to class the following day without adequate rest.

The situation is also exacerbated by the fact that many dorms still have heating on well into the spring term. Hanover weather is admittedly volatile — but if it is above 70 degrees and the heat is on full blast, there is a serious problem.

The reality is that the College must address this situation as soon as possible. Infrastructure is crucial, and it cannot be ignored in favor of more seemingly “immediate” concerns. Although it will take time, effort and money to implement a new air-conditioning system, I believe it would be greatly beneficial to all.