Opinion Asks: House Communities

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 11/9/15 6:55pm

We asked our opinion staff: "How will the new house communities affect Dartmouth?"

For any major change to resonate with the student body, it must resonate with the upperclassmen. For first-years like myself, upperclassmen are invaluable resources for anything academic, social or in between. Beyond that, upperclassmen have the experience and confidence to set the tone for campus “climate,” or whatever the Provost’s Office was trying to measure in the campus-wide survey. This obviously does not mean that first-years should blindly follow upperclassmen and do exactly as they see, but in general, upperclassmen provide cues to first-years on how to act. Since it has been unveiled last week, the house community announcement has featured prominently in my conversations with upperclassmen and, less seriously, on Yik Yak posts.

As a ’19, I thought my class was largely a blank canvas in regards to housing, considering we have just started our ninth week on campus. Surprisingly, people care about what we have to say on this issue, regardless of our minimal experience. At the recently held “Proud to be a Woman” dinner hosted by Link Up, I had the opportunity to speak with sociology professor Kathyrn Lively, one of the seven inaugural house professors for the new residential communities. After talking to her, I understood the purpose of the initiative better, as well its shortcomings.

Although a commendable attempt to foster tighter-knit, inclusive communities, the initiative has not garnered enough student leadership interest. Many upperclassmen seem opposed to the idea of living among 600-700 community members to the point that living in a Greek house or living learning community has become more appealing than ever — which defeats the purpose of creating community outside the Greek system. Living on an upperclassmen floor as part of an LLC has shown me that the LLC is what the upperclassmen make of it. If upperclassmen are not engaged by the community they find themselves in, it is very difficult to produce lasting change, as each incoming class year looks up to upperclassmen and are influenced by their attitudes.

Hansa Sharma ’19

There has been a great deal of uncertainty around the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” house community system. As a sophomore, I would appreciate greater transparency from administrators on how the house community system will impact students, particularly in regard to where I can and cannot live. Many students have become attached to certain buildings and housing communities that already exist, like the East Wheelock or McLaughlin clusters. Taking students who already have communities and randomly forcing them into “house” communities — delineating where they can and cannot live — seems counterintuitive to the goal of building community. Placing incoming freshman into house communities certainly would make sense, as they would not have the preexisting connections that upperclassmen have. I look forward to watching the development of house identities and programming during the rest of my time here. I am very fond of the residential college systems at Harvard and Yale Universities, but Dartmouth could improve on its attempt to create a new house system without residential colleges of its own. Current students should at least have a say in where they live, and ’19s, ’18s and ’17s should be allowed to opt out, or at least be given preference in choosing which house they want to join.

Anmol Ghavri ’18

Even if the College sinks enough money into planning, constructing and supporting the house communities for longer than a few years, the effort will only result in a legacy that might boast just about as much success as that of Paris Hilton, but without the scandal.

The house communities will be a selling point to prospective students, much like they are at Yale or Harvard. As of now, however, the College lacks the infrastructure necessary to make them a success, and the small size of this campus hardly warrants smaller clusters in the first place. Yale is a university made up of residential colleges, with each “house” forming a college. What does that make Dartmouth — a college of colleges? There is no need for a sorted, structured housing community. Part of the College’s magic is that students can easily connect with other students whom they like and with whom they share interests. Whether through sports, clubs or fraternities, one need not look far to find a friendly face. On this insular campus, there is no need to assign people to houses.

Outside of tightly-knit friend groups and sports teams, the College uses another social grouping — class years. Each Dartmouth class year shares a bond that I do not think could be found in a house community. No event could match the magic of running around the bonfire on Homecoming night, or that of Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips. These are the events that help to unite a large population of students, ones that house communities will have trouble matching. Even with the right funding, time and organization to plan such events, I am skeptical that many students would have the time or energy to attend. Yes, I could have week-nine bias, but I am not encouraged by the attendance of weekly freshman floor meetings. People seem to prefer doing their own thing rather than attending structured social events — at least, events that are lacking in Greek letters.

A sense of community is not something that can be created by sudden declaration. Two people will not suddenly feel closer if they are assigned to a team. A team can only bond if it must achieve an objective or defeat an enemy. House communities seem to lack a cohesive vision — unless one is inclined to think this plan aims to counteract the preeminence of Greek houses on campus. Hopefully the house communities can aspire to a more exciting purpose than that.

Ben Szuhaj ’19