Verbum Ultimum: An Open Door to New Ideas

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/18/16 7:00pm

Next Friday, students will receive their house membership letters. The assignments come as part of the College’s effort to revamp its current housing system. Next fall, students will live in one of six communities: Allen House, East Wheelock House, North Park House, School House, South House and West House. Living and learning communities will also remain a viable housing option for students. While the College’s plan to sort students into houses may call to mind scenes from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” (2001), Dartmouth isn’t Hogwarts, and unfortunately, the administration doesn’t seem to be as savvy as the Sorting Hat.

In light of administrators’ efforts to build new communities and cultivate a healthier campus culture, we believe it is incumbent upon them to evaluate their approach thus far. Many of the College’s attempts to construct alternative social spaces have fallen flat. Many College-approved social spaces have suffered from poor attendance. If administrators truly have students’ interests at heart, then they must reassess their ultimate goal. Otherwise, the College’s new housing plan will fare no better than its previous attempts to foster a more close-knit community.

According to the Office of Residential Life, the residential house system aims to “promote intellectual engagement, community and continuity.” However, several features of College policy make such aims unfeasible. Perhaps most troubling is the administration’s stance on social gatherings in residential communities. As it stands, gatherings of 10 or more students must be registered with the College as a social event if alcohol is present.

The College’s micro-management of such social interactions detracts from student relationships. The administration’s lofty aim of cultivating a supportive community won’t come to fruition unless they reevaluate College policies first. Revision of existing policies should go in lockstep with the College’s efforts to build a better Dartmouth.

In reconsidering its policy, the College should look to other institutions for examples. Other colleges and universities of the same caliber as Dartmouth have implemented more lenient policies without compromising academic rigor. For instance, Stanford University has become known for its “open-door policy.” According to the policy, university officials — excluding the Department of Public Safety — are not required to act in accordance with California’s state drinking laws.

In effect, Stanford students are permitted to possess and consume alcohol in residence halls. Ralph Castro, head of the Stanford’s Office of Alcohol Policy and Education, told The Stanford Daily, “Our intention is to build community in residences that encourage responsible behavior among peers.” He added, “We take an educational approach, wherein we educate students about accountability for bad choices, and expect them to make legal and healthy decisions.”

Stanford is not alone in endorsing a more moderate approach to alcohol on campus. Other schools have followed suit. Washington University in St. Louis recently adopted a similar alcohol policy. Ultimately, the policies of both universities take a softer approach compared to the College’s draconian hard-alcohol ban. Yet, students at Stanford and Washington University don’t seem to be going out every night of the week or underperforming in the classroom. In fact, both educational institutions boast vibrant, close-knit communities of students. If the administration is truly concerned about our physical, social and emotional well-being, then alternatives like Stanford’s “open-door policy” merit serious consideration from those in Parkhurst.

While we’ll need some time after its implementation to gauge the effectiveness of the College’s residential housing system, administrators have their work cut out for them. Although students will be sorted this coming Friday, the conversation about how to improve our school is far from over. In the coming months, we ask that the administration seriously consider the implications of its actions. Will foisting a new housing system onto students really solve our problems? Will meticulous social planning promote genuine relationships across campus? We are not saying the residential housing system is doomed. But without a hard look at our current policies they won’t be able to achieve the administration’s desired effect.