Sher: For the Benefit of All
Article 9 would benefit students and residents alike.
Today, Dartmouth students have a rare opportunity to improve the town they call home. Students make up about a third of eligible voters. Yet we rarely vote, missing critical chances to impact laws that will affect future generations of Dartmouth students. We can change that today. At its annual Town Meeting from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Hanover is holding a vote on proposed changes to Hanover zoning laws. Article 9 is a proposed ballot item that has the potential to positively impact both students and townspeople. A “yes” vote for Article 9 on Tuesday is a vote to improve Hanover.
Currently, a “student residence” is defined as a building “designed for residential student occupancy, which may include individual living units with social rooms and kitchen facilities for any number of students” that operates in conjunction with another institution — specifically, the College. Article 9 proposes to redefine a “student residence” so that it no longer needs to be operated in conjunction with the College.
By removing this requirement, Article 9 will result in more affordable and safe off-campus housing options for students. Because of zoning laws that give the College monopolistic levels of control over student housing in Hanover, there is currently a limited supply of off-campus housing options. Students who cannot get college housing often must live far from campus in overcrowded, overpriced and poorly maintained houses. If Article 9 passes, students would immediately have increased access to safe, affordable and local housing. The Class of 2021 currently has 1,279 students and is already over 100 students larger than any other class on campus. As the size of incoming classes increases, the shortage of off-campus housing will only become more severe.
Article 9 will also improve student life at Dartmouth. Under the current system of the College’s control, private student residences need recognition by the College to serve as such, regardless of whether they existed before the current zoning ordinance was created. As anybody who has attempted to lead a student organization is well aware, recognition is delayed, granted or withdrawn at Dartmouth’s sole discretion. By creating and maintaining high-quality housing for students, Article 9 will allow them to focus on improving their organizations instead of forcing them to navigate recognitions and derecognitions. In a May 4 article in The Dartmouth, Brian Joyce, the director of the Office of Greek Life, said that “some of our organizations have been sort of in a ‘survival mode.’… I want to see our organizations thrive and not just survive, not be fearful that they’re not going to be here.” If Article 9 passes, organizations currently fighting just to stay where they are can start concentrating on other desperately needed changes and improvements. It will be the first step in helping Dartmouth’s student organizations move from “surviving” to “thriving.”
Passing Article 9 would also benefit nearby residents who have firsthand experience with the negative impact of the current zoning law. When Alpha Delta was derecognized, the fraternity’s brothers did not disappear — they just moved into off-campus housing in residential neighborhoods. Now the property at 13 East Wheelock Street is a boarded-up house, and the dozens of fraternity brothers are displaced into the surrounding town. As the organization has been pushed off-campus, the brothers have inconveniently been forced to live among local families in residential neighborhoods. They, as well as the hundreds of other undergraduates living in off-campus apartments, operate at different hours and in different ways than the townspeople they live next to do — just last week, Hanover town manager Julia Griffin noted how undergraduates consistently fail to properly dispose of trash and maintain the properties they live on. If Article 9 fails, more students will be driven further into residential neighborhoods in Hanover, which will harm both students and townspeople alike.
A vote for Article 9 is not a vote for housing without any oversight. It is a vote to allow property owners to control what is rightfully theirs, without allowing the wealthiest landowner to dictate how it can use their property. Rights come with responsibilities; landowners who are equal under the law treat each other with substantially more respect. Article 9 would allow students to work with the College to improve student life rather than spend all their time fighting to protect what is rightfully theirs.
It is rare that students can improve their college town and simultaneously experience democracy in action. As students, we understand how lucky we are to have the privilege of spending our formative years in Hanover. Let’s leave Hanover a better place for future students and residents alike.
Sher is a member of the Class of 2017 studying history and ethics, and is a member of a Greek organization.
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