Moore: The Implications of a Cold Winter Term

Social interaction is critical — the College needs to find ways to maintain it this winter.

by Chelsea Moore | 11/6/20 2:00am

I woke up to a frost this morning and a few inches of snow coating the trees outside my window. As the Upper Valley gets colder, I’m beginning to think about the impending winter and its social implications. COVID-19 is primarily spread indoors — but the outdoors aren’t always an easy place to be during the Hanover winter. With temperatures dropping, feelings of isolation will become even more prevalent if Dartmouth doesn't offer some warm way for students to gather together. 

This fall, Dartmouth students have been able to maintain some small degree of socializing — playing Spikeball on the Green, eating lunch on Collis porch or jumping in the Connecticut River. Passing through Hanover, you see students Rollerblading in socially distant packs or strolling around Pine Park. Gile Mountain is a popular destination for group hikes, fall foliage and sunset views, while the Dartmouth Outing Club offers e-biking and hiking around the Upper Valley. The College has also been organizing Interhouse Council House Cup activities with in-person features, like trivia, movie nights and walks through the graveyard. 

This fall, students have been using the outdoors to safely socialize. But what will students do when all of this is no longer an option?

There’s no denying that Hanover winters are brutal. In normal times, students cram around tables at the Class of 1953 Commons, taking hours to eat their meals to prolong walking back to their dorms, or huddle in the library near the heaters in the 1902 Room. But now, who wants to eat at ’53 Commons, with only one person allowed per table? Who wants to go to the library if you can’t sit with your friends, or even walk in whenever you want? Students will be much more likely to isolate themselves in their warm rooms, resulting in decreased physical activity and a potentially grave toll on mental health. 

Even worse, with little available social interaction, students would resort to dorm rooms gatherings and dorm parties that would increase rates of potential exposure and infection.

Even if socially distanced, classes provide a way of making friends and interacting with people in person. They were always something I looked forward to, especially during the dismal winters. 

Unfortunately, the number of in-person classes is further decreasing from fall to winter term. This fall, Dartmouth offered 10 completely in-person courses for undergraduates. This winter, only 8 courses will be held in person. As an approved student for the winter term, I expected at least the same amount of in-person classes, if not more. 

If it isn’t possible to increase the number of in-person classes, there are a number of steps the College can take to ensure students can interact outdoors even during the cold winter months. 

This fall, Dartmouth Dining set up tents around campus as alternative dining spaces. Dartmouth should keep the tents and work to install outdoor heaters, or even fire pits. 

That way, students can safely interact with each other and have another option to break up the monotony of the ’53 Commons as the only open dining hall. Outdoor heating mechanisms are also inexpensive, especially compared to the high costs of opening whole buildings to seat students. 

The College should also continue to offer in-person events that promote socialization. Activities could be academically orientated to replace the typically in-person guest speakers, or more socially focused to substitute for Collis After Dark events and Greek life. For example, Dartmouth could organize hot cocoa on the Green, observing nights with the astronomy department’s telescopes or games in the Bema. 

On the upside, the Upper Valley offers outdoor spaces and safe, accessible activities. Pandemic or not, part of Dartmouth’s allure is the natural spaces either a walk or short drive from campus. 

Social interaction will help keep everyone mentally stable and safe this winter. It’s vital that the College recognizes this as it plans for winter term.