Verbum Ultimum: Housing Not Houses

The College needs to focus on adequate housing for everyone.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 10/7/16 12:20am

Most Dartmouth students were introduced to the new house community structures, or “centers,” when they arrived on campus this fall. The new buildings, one of which is located behind Gile Hall and the other behind the tennis courts next to the Alumni Gym, are a product of the new house community system implemented earlier this year as a part of the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative. The building by Gile, a wooden, two-story structure, is meant for School and Allen Houses, while the other is meant for South and North Park Houses. Both buildings were designed to be temporary spaces where students from those houses — and others, if they so please — can talk, work and create a social environment all their own. It is commendable that the administration is trying to provide social spaces for a student body that has had limited access to alternative options. This focus on funneling resources and time into the house community system, however, seems like an empty gesture when there is still so much to be done with the housing system itself.

Whether or not one believes that Dartmouth implementing a house community system was the right move is a moot point; what’s done is done. The students have been sorted, the signs painted and the scarves distributed. However, the massive focus on and expenditure involved in implementing some parts of the new house system seems ridiculous when the housing system itself is in such dire need of repair. Yet despite the many needs of our ailing housing system, the administration still saw fit to spend considerable time and resources constructing social spaces in a half-hearted attempt to promote house unity.

Instead of focusing on creating cohesive bonds tied to dull house names and colors, perhaps the administration should focus on the fact that a large part of our first-year population has to live in buildings that are widely considered to be sub-standard. Anyone who lives in or has visited the Choates or the River clusters could tell you that they aren’t quite representative of the ideal of the College on the Hill. From plumbing to heating issues to literal black mold, these buildings simply do not meet the standards that a Dartmouth student should expect. The administration has consistently denied that the levels of black mold in the River are dangerous; but it is also widely known that a freshman hoping to avoid the River could do so by obtaining a doctor’s note saying they are allergic to mold. Not every dorm experience can be equal, but a disparity in living conditions shouldn’t be this glaring.

Spaces like those that the new house community centers provide are important, but they fall below “decent living conditions” on the hierarchy of needs. One might argue that these buildings are meant to be temporary, and that surely an improvement in living conditions will come before any serious community building projects. Dartmouth’s precedent, however, is not very reassuring. There are other buildings at Dartmouth that were originally intended to only be used temporarily: the Choates, the River and the Lodge. At the time, they were regarded as quick fixes, meant to house a surging student population until a better, permanent solution could be implemented. However, as the administration continuously implements “temporary solutions” to tackle new and different problems, it seems to forget the critical issues that were only meant to be tabled until later.

This is not a cry for a total halt on all activities related to the housing communities, nor is it a call for the Choates, River and Lodge to be torn down and reconstructed in McLaughlin’s image. However, it is not unreasonable to note that some of the considerable funds that were used on these new buildings may have been put to better use on improving housing. Think of all the improvements that could be made if the College took the money they spent on these house community centers and instead worked on renovating the River cluster over a summer. There are other spaces for students to socialize, work and feel comfortable. If the administration wants to show that it cares about its students, the best way to do so would be to take care of their most basic needs first.

The editorial board consists of the editorial chair, the opinion editors and the opinion staff.