Dickman: Old Problem, New Urgency

The likely surge in on-campus students in the coming academic year makes the housing crisis more urgent than ever.

by Gracie Dickman | 2/23/21 2:00am

Dartmouth’s housing issue is far from new. The College has faced challenges since it began admitting women in 1972, which drastically increased the student population. Since then, the College has implemented the D-Plan, putting students on a constant rotation of off-terms and study abroad programs. The D-Plan somewhat thins out the on-campus population for any given term, keeping housing in check. Despite this fix, the underlying truth remains that there are more Dartmouth students than Dartmouth beds.

Dartmouth has a population of approximately 4,400 undergraduate students, but there are only 3,348 total beds in Dartmouth’s  residence halls, senior apartments and Living Learning Communities combined. Furthermore, not all of the dorms currently in use were even intended as permanent housing. The Lodge, a South House residence hall, was described in 1990 by then-Dean of Residential Life Mary Turco as “temporary” housing. That was over 30 years ago, but the dorm, albeit with a few renovations, is still in use.

The D-Plan normally helps mitigate the housing issue by thinning out the on-campus population. However, the makeshift bandage that the D-Plan places over the housing issue may no longer be strong enough. That’s due directly to the pandemic. With on-campus life currently so restricted, the end of the pandemic will likely result in more students choosing to live on campus next year rather than taking off terms or studying abroad. Although the freshmen have received two on-campus terms this year, more than any other class, they have still yet to experience a “normal” Dartmouth, making them less likely to take time off or go abroad next year, as many sophomores typically do. The recent cuts to study abroad programs also factor in. In the coming academic year, Dartmouth will only run 26 off-campus programs, whereas it normally runs about 40. The sharp decrease in programs offered means that more students will need to live on campus in any given term. 

Despite the urgency of this issue, the administration is choosing to direct its focus elsewhere; Dartmouth announced earlier this month that the Hopkins Center for the Arts is slated to undergo a $75 million expansion. I recognize that the two causes are unrelated, and the expansion of the arts is a necessary development at Dartmouth. However, the plan for the Hop renovation is evidence that the College has the ability to mobilize and gather donations in order to keep improving and expanding. If we can do so with the Hop, then why haven’t we done so with housing?

The renovation of the College’s academic buildings and programs is irrelevant if students are not given a place to live. Come fall, if a larger number of students apply to be on campus then the College can currently accommodate, the College will face a major issue. There is no quick fix. The College should address its continued snub of the housing crisis and either confirm it has a plan or admit that there might be an issue.