Solomon: Artificially Selecting Community

by Ioana Solomon | 11/15/15 6:30pm

The recent changes in the College’s housing policy have incited quite a passionate outflow of responses. From the outbursts of indignation and despair on Yik Yak to the loud, frustrated chatter in the lines for dinner, to even the calmer, more controlled and more intellectual conversations I have had with peers and classmates, I have come to one conclusion — it seems few, if any, are happy about the new residential communities.

I have heard angry opinions and I have heard indifferent ones, but no one I know has been openly ecstatic about the policy shift. One specific facet of its implementation particularly hurts the Class of 2019 — though house assignments will be randomized beginning with the Class of 2020, the ’19s, ’18s and ’17s have until Dec. 9 to choose up to five friends to be in our residential communities.

At first glance, the new housing policy does not seem too bad. For an upperclassman, I can see why it would be nice to come home after a term abroad and find familiar faces on my floor. I see why living with the same people for the next four years would seem exciting to a first-year. Yet, because the residential communities will be comprised of hundreds of students, I find it hard to believe that they will truly facilitate close and long-lasting relationships — I see little significant difference between that future and what we have now.

Though I have been on this campus for less than two months, I have already realized we have much that needs work. I can see why we are sometimes described as a “duck pond,” where everyone seems happy and calm on the outside, but is barely holding it together beneath the surface — attempting to hide the chaos below. I can see that many of us are unhappy and refuse to admit it, that some of us are afraid to be seen alone, afraid to acknowledge that we have not found our perfect place. I can see why so many of the relationships we form in these first terms are simply out of convenience — they are superficial and rarely meaningful.

But, for ’19s especially, forcing us to choose five people to be in the same residential community with for the next four years is not going to make us more open as people. It is not going to calm our fears. It is not going to make us feel less alone, and it is not going to make those relationships more real. For the ’19s, our first year is not enough time for us to realize who we are or who our real friends are — and while that may very well be the case for some sophomores and juniors as well, it hits my class particularly hard.

Because we are all changing so much during this time, the people we meet now may not be the same people with whom we will have strong bonds a year or two from now. Our relationships with them will inevitably change. Forcing the ’19s to choose a cluster of people so early on is damaging. It legitimizes artificial relationships and sends the message to those of us who have not settled well into a friend group by the end of fall term that we are strange — that being alone or selective about our friendships is neither normal nor good. Administrators should not be sending this message to ’19s — it is certainly no way to start off our college career.

Yet for ’19s and future classes alike, sharing the same residential community with other students for the next three years will not make us grow any closer if we do not become more open and more comfortable as an entire Dartmouth community. Knowing that there are familiar faces behind closed doors or in community lounges will not necessarily make our time here any easier. We need to tackle the roots of a culture of isolation, depression and fear instead of covering up its symptoms. While this new housing policy might work toward that goal it is not the end-all, be-all solution — and the College would do best not to treat it as such.

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