Perez: Half-Baked Housing

The administration should not have changed what wasn't broken.

by Sarah Perez | 10/20/16 12:30am

I apologize in advance if this column comes across as a petulant plea from a hopelessly jaded senior. While yes, I am a member of the Class of 2017 graduating this spring, no, I am not jaded.

While I’m far less naïve than my first-year self, my appreciation for this school and all it has done for me remains unchanged. I’m just as enamored with this campus as I was the first day I set foot here. That being said, the campus landscape has changed dramatically in the last term.

Upon arriving in Hanover a few weeks ago, the first change I noticed was a strange edifice that seemed to have sprung up in the heat of the summer. Its odd shape and awkward placement made it look even more foreign, like a UFO that had taken a wrong turn and fallen from the sky. The object had landed smack dab in the center of what used to be two tennis courts.

To my dismay, I soon learned that the origin of the structure wasn’t extraterrestrial at all but entirely human. “The Onion,” as it has been called, is the newest development in the rollout of Dartmouth’s new housing system. The multipurpose space serves residents of North Park House and South House, hosting a wide variety of social events. As a reluctant resident of the aforementioned House, I have already received many emails advertising such programming.

The Onion isn’t the only unfortunate addition to campus architecture. A similar space was constructed south of Gile Hall. Shared by residents of School and Allen Houses, the two-story building contains a snack bar and communal study space.

Amid the traditional red brick buildings seen throughout the majority of campus, the new house centers are more than just aesthetically displeasing. They are a glaring reminder of an administration intent on overhauling everything that makes our school unique.

At best, these spaces offer a forum for debate, as with the presidential debate watch party hosted by North Park and South Houses a few weeks ago. At worst, they reveal an administration scrounging for student approval amid an unpopular, poorly orchestrated experiment in social engineering. I am hard-pressed to imagine any student who would rather attend “North Park ‘n Chill” — a real event hosted earlier this term — than spend time with friends or catch up on studying. I have better things to do on a Monday night than binge watch a random TV show in a dingy dormitory lounge that isn’t even attached to my physical dormitory.

I don’t want Harvard University’s houses, Yale University’s residential colleges or Princeton University’s eating clubs. I want Dartmouth. I want incoming students to be able to interact with their peers freely, without worrying about which house they, or their friends, belong to. I want incoming students to be able to strike up a conversation with a stranger just because they feel like it, not just because they belong to the same house. For incoming students, I want a residential experience that doesn’t smack of social engineering.

As a ’17, I had the pleasure of experiencing a more genuine Dartmouth during my freshman year. Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the case for the College’s future classes. For this, I would like to express my sincerest apologies. To the Class of 2020 and beyond, I am sorry that you have been reduced to guinea pigs in a strange social experiment.

This past week, I traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan for an interview. While everything went well, I kept returning to one question long after the interview had ended. At one point in our conversation, the interviewer had asked me whether I would do anything differently if I could go back in time. Would I have chosen a different school? Decided on a different major? Knowingly braved many a Hanover winter?

My answer to these questions was relatively straightforward. Without equivocation, I simply said no. The interviewer, furrowing his brow, seemed taken aback. “You wouldn’t change a single thing?” he asked again, this time a twinge of disbelief in his voice. “No,” I repeated firmly.

I share this anecdote not to call attention to the pitfalls of corporate recruiting, but to highlight a broader point. Looking back on the last four years, I am grateful for each and every one. I wouldn’t trade my time at Dartmouth for anything in the world, and I hope that future classes are able to say the same. I hope that they will get to fall in love with Dartmouth in the same way I have, despite a host of misguided reforms. Though I am saddened that they will not experience the same Dartmouth I fell in love with, I hope they will see through the reforms and find the essence — the gorgeous New England setting, the dedicated faculty, the tight-knit community — that generations have appreciated.