Dickman: Decriminalize Dorm Socialization

The College’s COVID-19 restrictions have hurt freshmen seeking community at Dartmouth.

by Gracie Dickman | 11/10/20 2:30am

This fall has seen an unknown number of students, many of them ’24s, sent home for violating the College’s COVID-19 restrictions — most commonly, it seems, the limit on the number of students allowed in dorm rooms. Several students have testified to their experiences, recounting that their floors have been almost entirely cleared of people — some all at once, and some over the course of the term. The College’s rules on gathering limits leave ’24s between a rock and a hard place: To obey the strict rules, students must sacrifice their social and mental well-being. Amid this dilemma, it is clear that the students are not failing the administration — the administration is failing its students.

This fall is the ’24s’ first term on campus; they are strangers to Dartmouth and to each other. Socializing is crucial to their mental health and sense of belonging at Dartmouth. The College’s restrictions on gatherings may be realistic for upperclassmen who already have made friends and constructed a life in Hanover, but they are harmful for students who are seeking to meet new people and form new relationships. The administration has prohibited students from gathering in groups of larger than nine and from having anyone from outside their dorm inside their rooms. While the College has technically now amended its policy to permit as many people as social distancing will allow, the size of most dorm rooms means that this still yields space for only one guest. These circumstances not only severely dampen ’24’s ability to meet their peers and make friends, but create a culture of division and exclusion. 

While upperclassmen and other onlookers may see freshmen as irresponsible and immature for breaking the rules, I would contend that asking ’24s to maintain such social isolation is not at all a matter of responsibility or maturity. Rather, the College’s policies demand freshmen to unnecessarily sacrifice their social and emotional well-being. It is an ask that runs contrary to human nature. As temperatures drop and spending time outside or in tents becomes a less viable option, students are essentially forced to limit their socialization to only one-on-one interactions and only with people from their own dorms. This presents the dilemma: make new friends and develop relationships — be human — or follow the College’s COVID-19 policies. The administration’s choice to harshly punish freshmen for slipping up in an environment that has rendered human interaction and following the rules mutually exclusive is absurd.

In fact, the administration’s strictness is working against them. This past weekend, reports emerged of dozens of students attending large parties off campus. These students’ actions can be seen as a symptom of the administration’s stringent rules placed on on-campus socialization. If the administration let students gather in dorms, or in other indoor locations, students would be less likely to go off campus and retreat outside of the College’s heavily-monitored bubble of COVID-19 monitoring.

“What was the purpose of working so hard to build a bubble on campus, if not to allow the students in it to move around with a modicum of freedom?”

The College’s continued revocation of students’ on-campus privileges is disheartening; the fact that the same students whom the College hand-selected for their intelligence and commitment to education are being sent home in droves should serve as a sign that the problem is with the policy, not with the people. The administration is clearly not supporting its students. 

Yes, we all signed a contract when we decided to come to campus. But the fact that the College  hangs that contract over our heads as a constant threat is abusive and unnecessary, especially considering that just one student currently has COVID-19. What was the purpose of working so hard to build a bubble on campus, if not to allow the students in it to move around with a modicum of freedom? The administration must adjust its policy to decriminalize dorm socialization, allow friends to enter each other’s dorms and state an official number of people allowed in a room to clear up the unease that comes with the current restrictions. In addition, the College must implement a warning system, or a progression of disciplinary actions for students to face if they break social distancing rules (meeting with a dean and then probation, for example), rather than immediately sending students home for their entire freshmen year. 

For the sake of morale, for the sake of mental health and for the sake of building a community to which the ’24s, especially those sent home, will want to return, something must be done. Demanding social isolation from freshmen attempting to meet new friends and build a community at Dartmouth has proven unwarranted as a public health measure, unrealistic in practice and detrimental to both students and the College.

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