Biron and Mills discuss house communities at town hall

by Charles Chen | 3/27/18 2:10am

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Source: Courtesy of Charles Chen

Dean of the College Rebecca Biron discussed and answered questions on the house communities at a town hall with executive vice president Rick Mills on March 21. Around 60 members of the Dartmouth community gathered in Spaulding Auditorium.

Biron discussed the history and makeup of the house communities as well as the impetus for their founding, saying that the house communities work to provide continuity for undergraduate students.

“Because of the D-Plan, students are in and out of campus — they’re moving all the time,” Biron said. “Without the house communities, we had a system where students might live in 12 different residence halls across their four years of the undergraduate experience.”

The College announced the creation of the house community system in 2015 as part of the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative.

In an interview with The Dartmouth after the town hall, Mills said a town hall was set aside to specifically address the house communities because many people have expressed curiosity in their progress.

“There’s a surprising amount of interest in the staff about what’s going on in the housing community — it’s one of the topics I get the most emails requesting a meeting for,” Mills said.

Biron also said that the house communities’ future goals for programming are to be “almost entirely student-defined and student-driven.”

“The student-run executive boards have already started to take off and take on much more ownership of the programming for their houses,” she said.

Biron also discussed the current residential portfolio on campus. According to her, the College is currently at residential capacity, with no overflow space to which students could be relocated should the College wish to renovate a residence hall.

She emphasized the need for the College to build new residence halls.

After her presentation, Biron fielded questions from both general audience members and Mills, who asked how the College is evaluating the success of the house communities.

Biron said that every term, the College evaluates “a select, representative number of programs in every house.” She added that there are also termly reviews of budget allocation, a biannual House Council retreat and campus-wide surveys about the house communities.

Director of engineering and utilities Abbe Bjorklund asked Biron how the house communities relate to the fraternity and sorority houses on campus.

According to Biron, the house communities merely add “a new layer of socializing on campus” and are not intended to replace any of the existing social or residential communities.

“Officially, the Greek system and housing system are coexisting just like with the Living Learning Communities,” she said.

Director of equal opportunity and affirmative action Theodosia Cook followed up with a question about how the house communities have impacted substance abuse and other social problems on campus.

Biron said that she did not want to credit only the house communities with reducing rates of alcoholism on campus. However, she added that the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative, which encompasses the house communities as well as programs like the hard alcohol ban, played a role in the reduced rates of binge drinking the College has seen in recent years.

In an interview with The Dartmouth after the town hall, Biron said that while there were initially feelings of anxiety or wariness about the change the house communities would bring to the Dartmouth community, these concerns have gradually subsided.

“It’s become pretty clear to everyone that the house communities are a great opportunity to engage with different parts of campus, and if people don’t want to participate, there’s no obligation,” she said.

Biron added that faculty responses to the house communities have been positive as well.

“We introduced a pilot program to offer seminars to the housing community, and I thought we’d get a few faculty members to volunteer, and we ended up getting over 50 members,” she said.

Biron is stepping down from her role as Dean of the College at the end of academic year to return to research and teaching, but said she does not foresee her departure causing any changes to the development of the house communities.

“The House Council has been preparing for my departure, and all of the houses have their own leadership teams that set priorities for their house,” she said. “I think all those groups have developed in wonderful ways and will continue doing the work moving forward.”

After the question and answer session, Mills ended the town hall by summarizing other news for the Dartmouth community, including the decision by the Board of Trustees not to increase the size of the College’s student body and the decision not to build a new 750-bed residence hall in College Park.

New residential plans revolve around potentially constructing a smaller 350-bed residence hall. The structure’s smaller size would open up more possible construction locations, though College Park is still a candidate, Mills said.

Mills also spoke about the ongoing discussion surrounding the future of the Hanover Country Club golf course and the Trustees’ and College President Phil Hanlon’s considerations regarding the College’s financial investments in the golf course.

The Golf Course Advisory Committee will lead a public forum at 6:30 p.m. on April 9 in the Class of 1978 Life Sciences Center, according to Mills.

The next town hall will be held on May 16 and will focus on the Inclusive Excellence Initiative on diversity, as well as the upcoming and current College budget.