Huebner: A Useful Housing System

How does reality differ from theory in regards to the housing system?

by Julia Huebner | 10/13/16 12:30am

On Wednesday, I had breakfast with South House professor Kathryn Lively to discuss ways to improve the new housing system at the College. Before our meeting, I was admittedly skeptical: According to upperclassmen, the housing system was a device engineered by the administration to squash the Greek system and micromanage student life. I was told that the administration was opaque and sluggish; in short, good luck trying to get anything meaningful done on campus.

So, although I had expected Lively to be polite and receptive, I also suspected her to be nothing more than a rung on the administrative ladder. If I was lucky, she might offer to forward my suggestions to the administration. If I was not, my ideas would be lost in suggestion-box purgatory.

Over coffee at the Dirt Cowboy Cafe, I outlined my ideas: namely, that each house would have a student communication liaison, an upperclassmen-led initiation into the community for new members and opportunities to bring students together in their respective physical housing communities (for South House, House Center A near Alumni Gym). In short, I wanted the ethos of the housing communities to be student-centered rather than orchestrated by faculty.

To my surprise, Lively agreed with everything — she was just as motivated to better the fledgling system as I was. One moment stood out to me in particular. We had just finished discussing ways to bring students into their physical houses, and I suggested that the houses could offer free food during prime study hours as a study break for students.

“How’s tomorrow?” Lively asked.

I was confused. Where was the red tape? The paperwork? The sluggish bureaucracy?

By the time I finished my coffee, Lively had purchased 30 croissants from Dirt Cowboy Cafe and two to-go containers of Starbucks coffee to be supplied in House Center A from 8-11 p.m. the following evening.

Thursday’s “Croissants and Coffee” was an objective success. By 10:30, my friends and I had downed $114.45 worth of pastries. Was our word-of-mouth get-together as exciting as a Friday night at the frats? Probably not. But was laughing with friends over buttery croissants better than getting trashed, forging fake friendships and forgetting what happened the night before? Definitely.

I don’t expect most proposals for one’s housing system to be as easy to implement as Thursday’s snack break. Larger events necessitate a write-up and budget. Many ideas will need to be vetted through more than one authority figure and will need to be proposed by a working group rather than a single individual. Such oversight is necessary in preventing abuse of the system and will result in better ideas stemming from multiple contributors. However, the fact that we even have the chance to participate in this process is exciting.

For better or for worse, the experience of the ’20s at Dartmouth is one in which fraternities such as Alpha Delta and Sigma Alpha Epsilon have been replaced with Moving Dartmouth Forward, a hard alcohol ban and the new housing system. While I disagree with some aspects of our recent reforms, the fact of the matter is that this is the Dartmouth that ’20s have inherited. With the vision over a thousand fresh pairs of eyes bring, ’20s should not strive to revert Dartmouth to what it once was but challenge Dartmouth to become a better version of what it currently is.

This is not a call to abolish the old traditions that define a standard Dartmouth experience. I don’t expect or even want the housing system to totally replace Greek life on campus or change the social fabric of the school. However, these ideas are not mutually exclusive. For me, the social fabric of the College transcends fraternity parties; the Dartmouth community is one of mutual support, not of Greek letters. Although this view might be ignorant or naïve considering my short time at Dartmouth, it is still both experience-based and valid.

This is also not a call to join the governing board of your respective house. Each Dartmouth student should give back to their community in the way that they deem right. For some students, giving back will be speaking up as a student leader of their housing community; for others, it will be simply attending an election watch party. Others may not find a use for the system and abstain from participation. All are valid opinions.

But this is a call to recognize the opportunity that is currently presented to ’20s and, frankly, any current student willing to impact their social experience at the College. Through the housing community system, we have been gifted an enormous budget, administrative blessing and opportunity to affect our experience at Dartmouth. We could lament the good old days at Dartmouth, or we could create new ones.