College will spend $4 million on professor houses for residential communities

by Caroline Berens | 11/3/15 8:19pm

08.09.2015.the-choates_Katelyn-Jones
The Choates will continue to house freshmen, who will be assigned residential house communities starting with the Class of 2020.
Source: Katelyn Jones

Students graduating later than June 2016 will be randomly assigned into on of six residential communities — based in pre-existing residence halls — the College announced Monday, along with other details about the new residential community system. The College has allocated nearly $4 million to build and renovate the professor housing that will accompany each house community, vice president of campus planning and facilities Lisa Hogarty said.

Current students will be randomly assigned into one of the communities in February and will have the chance to request up to five students they would like to be in their house next month. Members of the Class of 2020 will be assigned houses next summer when they are given their first-year room assignments.

The system, part of College President Hanlon’s “Moving Dartmouth Forward” initiative, has been developed over the past year through combined efforts of a student advisory group and various committees comprising students, administrators and professors.

The six houses, which will occupy different residential dorms on campus, will each be led by a house professor who will live in close proximity to the community.

Hogarty said the system requires the construction of four new houses on Allen Street, School Street, Webster Avenue and Sanborn Road. Two houses on North Park Street and Clement Street will also undergo renovations. Construction of all the homes should be complete by the end of July 2016, Hogarty said.

Hogarty said each house has been budgeted approximately $650,000 for these efforts, totaling nearly $4 million for professor housing alone. She said this money comes from the College’s central operating reserves, funds that are at the discretion of the President and Provost. Houses will also each have programming budgets for events ranging from field trips, social gatherings and performances to service, house dinners and athletics.

Dean of the College Rebecca Biron said the exact budget for each residential house community has not yet been determined, since which functions will be funded centrally or by each house community remains undecided.

Biron said these activities will vary widely, with the unifying purpose of building community.

“The goal is to have a whole range of things from just hanging out in a social space in your house community in the student residences to just hanging out at the house professors’ houses, all the way up to more formal events with world leaders in the arts and academia,” Biron said.

Noah Manning ’17, a member of a working group committee that helped design the system, said its purpose is to bring a sense of not only community but also consistency to the constant flux and transition that the D-plan causes.

“We don’t have people who strongly identify with their residence halls right now. After freshman year, it’s primarily the place where you go to sleep,” Manning said. “We’re a world class institution — we can do better than that.”

Future house professors expressed a similar sentiment as Manning.

Engineering professor Jane Hill, who will be overseeing Allen House, said that in seeing the impressive residential communities from other colleges, she agreed that the College had room to grow. She said it will also serve as a way to ameliorate some of the detriments of the D-plan.

Biology professor Ryan Calsbeek, who will be part of North Park House, said the D-plan can be very disruptive to students’ attempts to find community at the College.

“Not having a place to come back to, once a student arrives back on campus, comes at a real cost,” Calsbeek said.

Calsbeek said having a consistent physical and emotional base will be a “boost” for students.

Physics and astronomy professor Ryan Hickox, who will be part of West House, said the system aims to replicate the feelings of community and unity that people often experience on their freshman floor, which he noted are randomly assigned and thus result in significant diversity.

“Some of the best experiences that you have in college are with people who you might not normally hang out with, but get to meet because they happen to be a part of a community with you,” Hickox said.

Calsbeek also said that his motivation for becoming a house professor stemmed from his experience leading the biology foreign study program in Costa Rica, on which his family accompanied him. Seeing students interact with his wife and children made him realize how beneficial living in such close proximity to students could be, he said.

“Their interactions broke down the normal barriers between students and professors and really changed the intellectual landscape in a positive way,” Calsbeek said, suggesting that his position as a house professor would engender similar interactions.

In response to arguments that Greek houses have already provided the benefits that the residential communities promise, Manning said the distinct difference is inclusivity. Roughly three quarters of eligible students are affiliated, Manning said, but every student at the College will be able to participate in the new housing system.

He also noted that the system does not intend to replace or eradicate Greek life, but instead to supplement it with even more opportunities to develop a community on campus.

Biron saidthat all students graduating after June 2016 will be assigned a residential community, though they may live in alternate housing options, such as Living Learning Communities, off-campus houses, affinity houses and Greek houses.Where a studentlives any given term is not the same as theirhouse membership, Biron said.

Once house community assignments are made, they are permanent, she said.

Hickox noted that the challenges he predicts for the program will be harnessing sufficient enthusiasm for the system to make people invested in it.

“There might be questions about how this is different from what we’re doing now,” Hickox said. “It can be difficult to visualize just how powerful building these communities will be.”

Hogarty said much of the direction for the system will largely stem from students, at the recommendation of the Board of Trustees.

“The Trustees said, ‘Let’s experiment and have the students tell us what works well, what doesn’t work well, before we make longer-term investments directly into their residence hall buildings,’” Hogarty said.

Students have had mixed reactions towards the system’s implementation. Of 10 students interviewed, seven expressed hesitation or dissatisfaction with the impending system. While most acknowledged that the administrators’ intentions are admirable, they are doubtful of the system’s success in practice.

Undergraduate advisor Dru Falco ’18 said that for the system to be optimally effective, it needs to be implemented over a longer period of time. She said all of the change happening at the College right now is overwhelming.

Falco also noted that the administrators’ aim to replicate the unity of freshman floors might not be effective.

“As a freshman, you need that sort of community, but as an upperclassman, you aren’t looking for it as much, and it’s not as important,” Falco said.