Chamseddine: Retooling Sophomore Summer

by Reem Chamseddine | 5/3/15 6:43pm

Over the last year and a half, there is perhaps one word that brings more hype with it than any other on campus. Many upperclassmen laud sophomore summer, and most underclassmen eagerly anticipate what is supposed to be the pinnacle of their Dartmouth experience. Yet, with about a month and half to go, I have serious reservations about the upcoming summer term.

That’s not to say I don’t love the idea of “Camp Dartmouth.” Warm weather on the Green and reuniting as a class are all things to which I can look forward. Sophomore summer, however, should not be held to the same weight as other terms — at the very least, it should be an optional experience, rather than one that demands administrative hurdles to opt out from.

The range and number of courses offered over the summer are disappointing. Within my major, for example, I could not find a single class that interested me — not surprising, given that, barring seminars, there were only five from which I could choose. It does not make sense to pay the same tuition or use precious academic credits on classes in which we are not interested. It is no wonder that many students take only two classes.

Of course, many students take fewer courses because of the legendary and hallowed reputation of sophomore summer — the name itself evokes images of nice weather, fun parties and easy classes. It is certainly possible for students to take classes and enjoy themselves, but I’m wary of an academic term that is associated so strongly with barbecues and river challenges.

To add to this, the peculiar timing of the summer term compounds the inconvenience of the term as compared to others. This year, summer classes begin on June 25, while spring final exams end on June 8. Graduation and commencement may impact this timing, but that largely affects graduating seniors — not incoming sophomores. Two-and-a-half weeks is long enough to get away from campus, but too short for one to work, get an internship or anything similar. The same applies for the interim period between summer term and fall term. For those of us whose hometowns are far from campus, the interim periods can be unfulfilling and stagnant.

More inconvenient is the summer’s requirement that many students change residence halls simply because only a select few remain open. It is absurd that the residential office compels the majority of students who remain on campus during interim to move to the Choates or the River Clusters — only to have to move to their assigned summer housing only a couple of weeks later. The only exceptions to this rule are for those living in Maxwell, Channing Cox or Ledyard apartments, and those students who will be staying in the same room for spring and summer terms.

There are clear solutions to these problems. First, the College should move the summer term closer to the end of spring term. The Office of Residential Life should allow students to remain in their spring housing over the summer interim, and departments should offer a wider variety of classes.

Understandably, these are not simple solutions that could be implemented without logistical or financial obstacles. The alternative, then, is to make it an optional decision to spend the summer in Hanover. Without being a requirement, many students will likely continue to stay on campus for the fun and tradition of sophomore summer. Others, however, would not be limited to fewer classes and inconvenient academic calendars for the sake of a requirement.

Instead, the College should institute a “summer study” program, similar to shorter or more open terms that many other schools offer. Williams College, for example, mandates a “winter study period,” and Colby and Amherst Colleges both have short January terms. During these terms, often only a few weeks in length, students take one intensive class or undertake a project with a faculty mentor, but are otherwise free to enjoy campus without the full number of commitments that come with a full term. Another alternative is to hold a “sophomore week,” the sophomore version of senior week, complete with trips, big lunches and evening programs. There are so many options outside of a mandatory sophomore summer — it is time we start thinking about making significant change.