Scheetz & Warren: We Are Dartmouth Too

Graduate students deserve a place on campus.

by Perry Scheetz and Nick Warren | 6/23/17 2:15am

This spring saw significant discussion on the state of graduate and undergraduate education at Dartmouth. An opinion column published by The Dartmouth editorial board suggested that formation of the new School of Graduate and Advanced Studies engendered an alleged decline in the quality of undergraduate education and the satisfaction reported by the undergraduate community.In response, Graduate Student Council President Kyla Rodgers argued that graduate students improve undergraduate education by providing greater access to research opportunities and facilities, creating interdisciplinary spaces and being effective role models. This conversation continued among the graduate student population and was a primary discussion point at a lunch with President Hanlon and several graduate student leaders.President Hanlon assured the graduate student leaders that our community would not be exploited for the benefit of undergraduate education.

However, due to an unexpected overabundance of newly accepted undergraduates for the class of 2021, the only option for on-campus graduate student housing has been eliminated. Graduate students are again discussing the level of acceptance we have among the wider Dartmouth community. A petition was created and unanimously supported through a resolution by the Graduate Student Council for people to voice their support of on-campus graduate housing; The petition garnered 411 signatures.The administration failed to consult with the graduate student community about this move before making a decision, but has since explained their reasoning to graduate student leaders. The solution for the undergraduate housing crisis appears to benefit the undergraduate community at the expense of the graduate community. We recognize that this decision did not come from the undergraduate community and continue to support the growth and education of our undergraduates. We simply wish that graduate students be considered an equal part of the wider Dartmouth community, not just from an administrative standpoint, but also a cultural one.

In 2016, the graduate community welcomed 40 undergraduate students into North Park, again an overcrowding issue, to support the College’s new housing initiative. Our community openly embraced the prospect of creating a stronger Dartmouth community and sacrificed 40 of our 110 housing spaces, with the assumption that construction for new undergraduate dorms would begin shortly. In a meeting with Provost Dever, she described early plans to build a new undergraduate dormitory, but the implementation is years away. The board of trustees recently authorized $200,000 in spending for feasibility and planning for new undergraduate housing, which will hopefully kick start this process. Further complicating the housing situation, there is an agreement between the City of Hanover and the College to allow no more than 10 percent of the undergraduate population to live off-campus. Lacking any easy and cost-effective alternatives, commandeering the remaining rooms in North Park was viewed as the most viable solution.

North Park was built in 2004 as a housing unit specifically for first year graduate students and has since become a cherished part of the graduate student community. North Park is so central to the graduate student community that many departments provide tours of the facilities during recruitment processes. North Park is especially important to international graduate students who do not have their own means of transportation and generally arrive to campus with only a suitcase. The advanced transit bus routes are nice for people without cars, but they do not run at night or on the weekends, when we often have to do research or go grocery shopping. Forcing first year graduate students off campus would greatly disadvantage incoming graduate students, especially students without cars or driver’s licenses. Additionally, international students may be unfamiliar with leasing agreements in the U.S. and inexperienced with finding potential living spaces. Having a year of college-provided housing removes those hurdles to attend Dartmouth. Being in rural New Hampshire, we need policies and practices that actively promote diversity. Convenient housing options are key to attracting international students with unique and necessary perspectives. The College has said they are committed to increasing the diversity on campus through the inclusive excellence initiative.By sacrificing the ability to house graduate students in North Park, the College loses an enormous recruitment draw for bright minds from across the globe.

While the administration has promised to find housing for the graduate students who already signed leases for next year, they will not be living in a tight-knit on-campus community. Additionally, the extra 70 students who applied for the housing lottery were turned away without any compensation. Starting graduate school can be a very lonely experience, not just for international students. Living off-campus puts us at a distance from social and academic events organized by the Graduate Student Council, as well as undergraduate-focused organizations such as the Programming Board. This physical distance disincentivizes us to participate in campus activities. Since the buses do not run on the nights or weekends when these events are generally held, many graduate students are deterred from participating. This is arguably the single largest reason for why graduate students do not feel or are not perceived to be as connected to the Dartmouth community as its other members. In contrast, proximity breeds interaction. Living adjacent to the campus social life helps first year students integrate into Dartmouth culture. As was discussed at the lunch with President Hanlon, graduate student leaders are trying to form stronger connections between the graduate and undergraduate communities to enrich both of our experiences. The decision to remove our presence from campus housing exacerbates feelings of disconnection and encumbers integration efforts following the One Dartmouth initiative.

Leaders of the graduate student community understand that the administration must often make difficult decisions. However, removing graduate students from North Park appeared to be particularly detrimental to our community for the benefit of another. We have been reassured by Provost Dever that our input will be welcomed in future discussions about issues affecting the graduate community and that the College is committed to supporting graduate education. Committing to return on-campus graduate housing in the future would be a powerful message of support that the administration could give to the graduate community. In the meantime, the College should help make it as easy as possible for first year international students to find housing in Hanover and become a part of Dartmouth. We look forward to helping the effort to improve graduate and undergraduate education at Dartmouth. As President Hanlon told the graduate student leaders during lunch at his house in May, “I see graduate and undergraduate education as co-beneficial.” The College’s policies and solutions to difficult problems should continue to reflect that sentiment.

Nicholas Warren is a PhD candidate in the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine. He also serves as a representative on the Graduate Student Council.

Dr. Perry Sheetz recently defended a PhD in Chemistry. She also has served on the Graduate Student Council Executive Board as the North Park Activities Coordinator for the past 3 years.

A shortened version of this article was published in print. 

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Correction Appended (June 24, 2017): This column was updated to correct a misspelling in an author's name.