New Locks, New Problems

by Brent Kesler | 5/15/02 5:00am

Dartmouth has recently decided, as part of its new door lock initiative, to end deliveries right to students' doors. Instead, students must get up from their work and go down to the door to get their pizza or chop suey. This new policy seems little more than just another inconvenience students have to learn to tolerate at Dartmouth. However, Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman's comments on the new policy really hit a sore spot with me: "When I order food from Panda House, they deliver it to my door. They don't deliver it to my bedroom. The New York Times comes to the doorstep too."

This is an argument by analogy, the weakest form of argument. It is an argument I've faced often when dealing with the administration. It is the same argument used in the Safety and Security walk-through scandal of summer 2001, i.e. that Greek, undergraduate society and affinity housing were like dorms and should be governed the same way, even up to having Safety and Security officers enter anytime they please. I thought I had successfully defeated the argument during that scandal, but found it later in the mouth of a Trustee, and now I find that it has risen again in the Office of Residential Life. I will destroy this argument finally, and inform the administrators of this institution one last time: dorms are not homes.

Dorms are filing cabinets -- a place to put students when they're not going to class or writing a paper or doing community service or doing something else to make the Dartmouth community look good. I've told this to ORL numerous times, but never has it stuck. I will explain the differences now. Deliveries to the front door of a home are simple affairs. In a home, the largest number of people you may find is five or six. When a pizza deliverer arrives and rings the doorbell, the probability that the person who ordered the pizza will answer the door is high, between 16.7 percent and 20 percent. A dorm, on the other hand, has around 200 inhabitants. This fact complicates pizza delivery. Luckily, the new policy has accounted for this, and the College will install phones to allow deliverers to call students to come down and get their food. I have never actually visited Dean Redman's house, but I believe no such phone is installed there.

Further, people who live in homes tend to know each other. Observe the vibrant social life of houses like Alpha Theta, Panarchy or the affinity houses. This is due, in part, to the low numbers of people inhabiting these places, as well as easily accessible social space and programming, something lacking in the dorms. These people live with each other, rather than just beside each other. They make their houses into real personal spaces. Contrast this to the anonymity of dorms.

Besides just being a bad analogy, this will also have some bad effect on student work. I remember long winter nights in my dorm room freshman year when I could write my paper, order food, eat it and pay for it, then continue my paper. If I planned my laziness properly, I was able to do all this without having to leave my chair. I didn't have to break my fragile thought-thread. Now, a student will have to physically leave the paper, possibly run up and down some stairs, get the food and only then go back to the paper. By my study habits, that would cost me an hour of work-time.

This policy may actually decrease the readership of certain publications. When I lived in the dorm, my day would be somewhat brightened by finding some publication at my door. Some thoughtful person had reduced the effort of reading these publications to the bare minimum of just looking at it -- or at least picking it up off the floor and looking at it. I read many things living in the dorm that I otherwise would not have, simply because someone gave it to me for free.

In the end this policy isn't that big of a pain. There will be some minor inconvenience and then everyone will learn to adapt. The problems I've pointed out are trivial. But that analogy must die. I want Dean Redman to sit down with a copy of this paper and say to himself three times, "Dorms are not homes," and keep doing that until he's got it straight.

It isn't only policy that is at stake. I'm tired of getting a bad analogy as a justification for bad policy. If there is some substantive reason to change the policy, then Redman should not hold that reason back. We're Dartmouth students. Many of us had completed a rigorous education before coming here. We can deal with arguments more complex than analogy. Or perhaps the scenario is worse. Perhaps there is no substantive reason. Perhaps the administration just needs to justify making living in dorms a little more unbearable, and this poor analogy is all they can offer. If that is the case, then our administrators need to learn a new skill: differentiation of things. It's that human mental capacity to realize whether I live in a home or a filing cabinet. And if I am living in a filing cabinet, at least let me get my pizza delivered to my particular drawer.