The Perks of Freshman Housing
This is hardly news, but in case anyone has somehow managed to miss the loud, distracting construction going on around campus, here's the skinny: in addition to a variety of classroom and administrative buildings, new residential spaces are being built: the McLaughlin Residential Cluster at North College and Maynard Streets, and the Tuck Mall Residence Halls on Tuck Mall. What is less obvious, but is gradually spreading, is the news of proposed plans to tear down Hinman Hall in the River cluster (to make way for a new business school facility) and to eventually tear down and replace the rest of the residential housing in the River. While the only building coming down for sure in the near future is Hinman (funding does not currently exist to replace French and McLane) the imminent destruction of one of the River dorms got me thinking about the role that all-freshman housing plays in the first-year experience.
Complaining about living in the River has become so ubiquitous among the class of 2009 that it alone can make up the bulk of a conversation. Whenever you meet a fellow River resident, you can always bond over a long diatribe of how much it stinks to live so far from the center of campus. Consider this little gem of an icebreaker: "Man, doesn't it suck to have to walk so far to get to class? Yeah, we're friggin' closer to Vermont than we are to the Green!" Voila, instant connection. After this brief exchange you're ready to take that next step and initiate a Facebook friendship. Seriously, living arrangements are just one of those things that freshmen in the River love to hate.
But despite this, I've often found that the incessant complaining belies a deep and strong, if hidden, affection for the River. For in spite of the long walks, small bathrooms and complete isolation from the rest of Dartmouth--we're nestled comfortably behind not one, but two of Dartmouth's grad schools; there's just something about all-freshman housing that makes the first-year experience unique. And notwithstanding my excitement at the prospect of nicer residence halls, speaking as a freshman, I would choose freshman-only housing farther from campus over nicer, mixed-class housing a shorter distance away any day.
I'm sure living with upperclassmen is nice, too, and that living closer to the dining facilities helps make students less dependent on orders of delivered EBAs pizzas and breadsticks once winter rolls around. But there's just something about living with your class that enhances the first-year experience and makes all the downsides of living in places like the River bearable. This is probably the only chance we'll have to really be fast friends with the people on our floor; to have random conversations and gatherings in the hallways; to play mini-golf in the lounge at 2 a.m.; to engage in games of hallway tennis; and to just really get to know some of the people in our class.
It's true what they say, that living with your class facilitates the formation of friendships. And clich and corny though it may be, when we freshmen are late to class every morning because it takes a whole 15 minutes to get there, and when we decry the unpleasantness of having to bathe in booths that make the showers at the YMCA look luxurious, we can find comfort in the realization that our fellow first years are going through the same thing. It is an even greater relief to be able to vent all our freshman frustrations to understanding ears. I wouldn't have it any other way.
I am hardly one to complain if the administration wants to construct bigger, better residential space. But with the destruction of Hinman (and possibly the rest of the River dorms) in the works, I hope that the administration will not forget to always preserve some dorms as freshmen-only spaces. Freshman housing provides a unique experience of which future first-years should not be deprived.