Chun: Carpe Domus

by Steven Chun | 2/21/16 6:45pm

I recently ate dinner with an ’84. During out dinner, he hearkened back to older, less regulated times. One comment stuck out in our conversation. Back then, he told me, dorms had their own identities. There was no freshman housing, and people rarely moved around. Intramural sports had a Greek league and a dorm league whose champions played each other. Dorms had the power and funding from the College to host their own parties. Freshmen knew the sophomores, juniors and seniors in their dorms and dorms existed alongside a vibrant Greek scene. In many ways, it was exactly what the new house system intends to create.

Disclaimer: This winter, I joined one of the house community working groups. As always, however, this column represents my opinion alone. I would like to express something that comes up rarely in this process — optimism. I honestly believe that the house communities are the right move. Dartmouth is changing, and while I can’t say I agree with all of it, fear of change shouldn’t impede the progress of the house system.

I would like to address the criticisms some students have raised. Whereas some are valid concerns, others are knee-jerk reactions to institutional change. While it may not be possible to have connected buildings and facilities, there is little reason for this to be seen as a fatal flaw. Surely, it would be ideal to have connected buildings — six dining halls, six libraries and six gyms. But, it’s simply not possible for a college of 4,200 students. On the other hand, the core components of the house system — proximity, social continuity, student governance and a unique identity ­— remain intact.

Amid suspensions, probations and derecognitions of Greek houses it’s not surprising that the house community system has been seen as a move to replace Greek life at Dartmouth.

However, in no way do the house communities have the ability or the desire to infringe on Greek life. Someone living in his or her Greek house could theoretically, with sufficient obliviousness and apathy, continue on with his or her life completely unaware that the house system even exists. Ideally, however, students should enjoy the house system and Greek life simultaneously. They are not mutually exclusive; they are not even competing.

An unfortunate amount of the discussion surrounding the house communities has been couched in institutional turmoil. Very little consideration has been given to what the house system could do for Dartmouth.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to, staunchly opposed to apathetic to enthusiastic, has agreed that the system will be good for the Class of 2020 and beyond. But in the short term, they feel like collateral. It doesn’t have to be that way. The houses are nearly entirely student-run. We don’t have to wait for the houses to become treasured institutions. If we want, we can make them great ­­— starting immediately. It’s hard to imagine a few hundred Dartmouth undergrads, unified by a single identity, enjoying access to significant funding and power being unable to foster a sense of community.

While the idea of the house system came from the administration, only the students have the power to shape. We complain about the administration’s deafness to student voices, and yet we turn our nose up at the authority the house system gives us.

We came to Dartmouth for the opportunities, to seize what the College offered and make it ours. I see no reason for the house system to be anything different. To frame it in Abraham Lincoln’s famous words about representative governance, the houses are of the students, by the students and for the students.

I am optimistic about the house system because I still believe in Dartmouth students. I still believe in our ability to shape our College.