Class of 2019 will be placed in residential communities

by Annie Ma | 1/29/15 11:06pm

Moore Theater was at fully capacity Thursday morning as students, faculty and community members listened to policy proposals.
by Natalie Cantave / The Dartmouth

College President Phil Hanlon announced new initiatives for residential life, including a complete redesign of the undergraduate housing model. Beginning with the Class of 2019, incoming Dartmouth students will be randomly assigned to one of six dormitory clusters. Beginning their sophomore year, these students will live in these assigned clusters for the remaining three years of their undergraduate experience. The College will commit $1 million annually to fund the social, academic and intramural programming in these residence communities. Freshmen will live on first-year only floors, and first-year residential education will continue. Upperclassmen will have the option to live in Greek housing, affinity housing or in Living and Learning Communities, but will remain members of their original residential community. Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer said that she hopes the transition to the new community system will be transparent. While the system will begin with the Class of 2019, current ’16s, ’17s and ’18s may be given the choice to opt-in to a community if they wish, she said. The initiative also aims to facilitate faculty interaction and academic support within the residential community system. In Thursday’s address, Hanlon said that the goal of the initiative is to create a campus that is more inclusive and cohesive between undergraduates, graduates and faculty. The residential communities will have faculty advisors and graduate students who live in the clusters, possibly along with their families. Review of faculty candidates will begin this February, Hanlon said. “I’m hoping that each house will have its own identity and its own personality based upon the faculty leadership,” Ameer said. Robert O’Hara, a consultant to colleges establishing residential houses, said that the difficulty of implementing such a system is most apparent in the first years before house identities form. Each house should represent a microcosm of the larger college student body. He said, however, that community can easily be fostered by having students coming together at weekly meetings that will kindle connections and friendships. O’Hara also said that the strength of a house or residential college system comes from the rich social and academic environment it fosters. The idea of membership, he said, is essential to the model’s success. Dartmouth is unique with its academic calendar, known as the D-Plan, which makes study abroad programs and leave terms for internships possible throughout the academic year. Many feel, however, that the system makes it difficult to create a sense of continuity on campus, as students frequently move between dorms and friends’ D-plans often do not match up.

O’Hara said that the implementation of the residential community system would ameliorate the problem the D-Plan poses for upperclassmen. He said it would give them a space where they feel they can always return, with benefits that trickle down to underclassmen as well. “[The D-Plan] is why the idea of membership in the house as opposed to resident in a building is so important,” O’Hara said. “If I come in as a freshmen in a house, and then I study abroad my junior year, while I’m abroad I’m still a member of my house, and I can continue to stay in touch with them. It’s a wonderful thing for beginning students to see too, that there are juniors and seniors in their house that are now doing these programs, so they can see ahead to the opportunities they could have.” While the Greek system is a separate institution, O’Hara said that the development of a residential college system could affect its membership. While students who intend to rush will likely continue to do so, the availability of a community in the residential college system might remove the appeal for students who are seeking a sense of continuity amidst the D-Plan. The residential community initiative is similar to existing models found at other institutions. Examples include the house system at the University of Chicago and Harvard University, the residential college system at Princeton University and the dorm rush at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Students at these schools who were interviewed expressed support of their respective housing systems, emphasizing a sense of community and ease of access to faculty and other students. At the University of Chicago, freshmen are randomly placed into one of 38 houses, each averaging around 70 students. After freshmen year, students are no longer required to live within their houses, but those who move out can still continue to participate in house events. June Huang ’15, an assistant resident head at the University of Chicago, said that the house system can create a stronger support system from the start, especially in potentially dangerous situations. She cited examples of student intervention in instances of alcohol poisoning “Knowing that you’re housemates and not just living in the same dorm can lead to a greater sense of responsibility for each other,” Huang said. “Sometimes, you don’t know their name but they’re a familiar face from the same house so you stay with them until they’re okay and make sure the house [advisor] knows.”

O’Hara also said that the house system can remove barriers to intervention. A strong house system can create a family-like environment, he said, which can combat misconduct and promote bystander intervention as peers no longer seem anonymous. At Harvard University, freshmen are assigned to houses within the Yard, a cluster of dorms at the center of campus that house only first-year students. During their freshmen spring, students form blocking groups that are then sorted into one of 12 houses where they live for their remaining three years. Isabella Chiu ’17 said that the houses supplement the undergraduate experience, with each house providing a network of professional and academic support in addition to dining halls and social spaces. Chiu said that while the houses themselves do not usually organize parties or social events, they often provide the physical space for organizations that wish to hold events.

At MIT, students participate in a process known as “dorm rush” during orientation, where freshmen can sample living in the variety of housing options offered on campus. At the end, students select their preferences and are usually placed into their first choice. Linda Liu ’17 said that because students tend to live in the same dorm for four years, each community forms strong identities and subcultures. She said that through funding, students can take charge to create their own social spaces based on interest, which helps foster a strong sense of community and tradition. The Moving Dartmouth Forward recommendations outline a system of both academic support and social events for each residential community. In addition, the plan states that it aims to eventually have dedicated spaces for study and social interaction. The lack of physical social spaces on campus has been widely debated by Dartmouth students. In the fall, the removal of residential space at Ledyard was widely contested, as students felt like it provided a social space that they had ownership of as opposed to other campus spaces like Sarner Underground or Collis. “Students have been coming to me since I got here five years ago saying that we are not offering in our residential communities the same kind of continuity that our affinity houses and our Greek houses are offering,” Ameer said. “We should be offering that to all students.”