Brown: A Pivotal Proposal

Article 9 is a wake-up call for Dartmouth. Students must act together.

by Matthew Brown | 5/9/17 12:45am

Today, the town of Hanover will have its annual ballot to vote on new zoning articles and town officers. Potential new laws are of special interest to the Dartmouth community. This year, Hanover’s town meeting is acutely relevant to the College, thanks to one high-stakes petition article.

Article 9 on the ballot of the annual Town Meeting would change the definition of a “student residence” to “a building designed for residential student occupancy, which may include individual living units with social rooms and kitchen facilities for any number of students.” Student residences would thus no longer have to be recognized by the College. Though it is a reasonable definition by any standard, the Dartmouth administration and Hanover planning board have come out strongly against the bill, arguing that the article is bad policy and will be dangerous for public safety. This is a strange argument to make, as many college towns have similar zoning codes for universities but do not require that student housing and residences be recognized in the same manner as Hanover has. Furthermore, some residents of Hanover argue that rejecting the article would in fact hurt the town, politely pointing out that many students, lacking other options, would simply move into what is current residential housing en masse.

For anyone who’s been paying attention to Hanover news, the implications of the article are obvious. The previous definition of “student residences” required that any such building be recognized by an “institution,” a rule that in Hanover is typically occupied by Dartmouth College. This legal quirk was the chief rationale behind the New Hampshire Supreme Court’s ruling that Alpha Delta fraternity house can no longer house students. If the proposed article passes, then any building that meets the new standards could establish itself as a “student residence” regardless of its status in the eyes of the College. Anyone, student or resident, who wishes to see a reorientation of town and College policy to create a healthier environment for all, should vote “yes” on May 9.

Most students have a vague idea of what the immediate consequences would be if the article passes. The terms of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s pending court case may change significantly, and any subsequent legal battles between the town, Dartmouth and Greek letter organizations would occur under rules very different from the ones that applied in Alpha Delta’s case. But even those unconcerned with the future of the Greek system should support Article 9 for the message that it sends the College.

Through its action and rhetoric, the administration has made it clear that regulating student social life and behavior are issues central to its agenda. Especially after the Board of Trustees decided against Alpha Delta’s possible re-recognition because it could undermine Moving Dartmouth Forward — despite the fact that AD would not directly impact any of its goals more than any other Greek letter organization does — I’m confident that MDF aspires to nothing more than micromanaging student misconduct. AD’s re-recognition should have no effect on the prospective success of MDF’s supposed goals, especially given the high proportion of affiliated students on campus. If the scope of the administration’s vision can’t extend beyond Webster Avenue and West Wheelock Street, I’m concerned that the administration is failing at implementing any meaningful, lasting change. There are many legal and logical reasons to justify the College’s involvement in student life. However, the effort that Dartmouth has put into regulating student life is detrimental to the institution, its students and the town of Hanover.

Dartmouth needs a wake-up call. The administration has devoted incredible amounts of time and energy into what effectively amounts to social engineering but has little to show for it. The Greek system is not an irreplaceable or wholly benevolent presence here, but neither is any institution on this campus, the current administration included. Scapegoating Greek organizations does little to change Dartmouth’s overall social and academic condition, especially given the College’s lack of earnest investment in thorough and thoughtful alternatives. A vote of “yes” on Tuesday would show the school that it cannot rely solely on force to solve Dartmouth’s many issues.

The ostensible narrative of this vote is that of a fight between the Greeks and the administration. While true, this is not all that Article 9 can represent. To create a healthier and stronger campus, there needs to be dialogue between students, the College and in many cases, the residents of Hanover. We cannot have such discussions when the administration’s agenda is so clearly misguided. Vote “yes” on Article 9, not just because your affiliated friends asked you to, nor simply because you find the current definition of a “student residence” archaic. Vote “yes” today to signal a unified student voice against the College’s direction. If restructuring Hanover’s zoning laws is what it takes to make the administration realize that, then so be it.