Allen: Students Live Here Too

Hanover must treat Dartmouth students and non-student residents equally.

by Spencer Allen | 7/30/21 4:10am

The recent campaign for a seat on the Hanover Selectboard by David Millman ’23 has shed light on the tensions between student and non-student residents of Hanover. Exhausted by years of name-calling and othering by non-student residents — including prominent residents like Hanover town manager Julia Griffin — Millman’s campaign promised students a seat at the table where decisions impacting their lives are made. Though his campaign was unsuccessful, its underlying message does not have to face the same fate. Dartmouth students have long been treated like second-class citizens in Hanover politics; it is long overdue for the town to treat us as equals in the community.

Dartmouth students are undeniably important to Hanover. In normal times, the College’s more than 4,000 undergraduates live in Hanover at various points throughout the year, totaling about 35% of the town’s roughly 11,500 residents. Even during the pandemic, most students returned to Hanover to live either on or off campus. Like the rest of the population, Dartmouth students frequent Hanover’s shops, eat at its restaurants and benefit from its public services.

Why, then, is the local government so insistent on alienating students? Many can remember when Griffin called students “selfish” for allegedly violating COVID-19 health guidance and told them to “smarten up” in a guest column in The Dartmouth. While Griffin’s argument was based on the health and safety of the entire Hanover community, her argument was shortsighted and her language was too divisive for that of a governing official. Yes, some Dartmouth students broke COVID-19 rules last year. But as I wrote last summer, so too did some Hanover residents — just with far less backlash. Singling out Dartmouth students without demanding that non-student residents follow the same rules creates a double standard, sending the message that students are of lesser status than non-students.

The anti-student stance of the town government has also permeated the lives of many non-student residents. As many students struggle to find housing for the fall — including off-campus, where they must compete in a tight housing market with exorbitant rent — Hanover residents recently voted against changing local laws to expand housing capacity in the region. In a recent interview with The Dartmouth, Hanover Selectboard member Joanna Whitcomb advocated against the housing changes, arguing that they would “change the character” of town residences. Hanover is a college town, and college towns and their housing units confer with them a certain character that differs from other towns. If Hanover was truly set on preserving its status as a college community, they would support efforts to make it easier for students to take up housing within Hanover. Unfortunately, that did not happen. By forcing students into on-campus housing siloed away from the town, it is non-student residents that are attempting to change the “character” of Hanover, not students. 

Some may argue that Dartmouth students lack the ties to the community necessary for them to be established residents. Sure, most Dartmouth students only stay in Hanover for their undergraduate career — typically four years — before leaving. It’s also true that the “Dartmouth bubble” encourages students to interact mostly with individuals holding some sort of institutional affiliation.

However, that does not make students undeserving of the legal and social benefits of Hanover residency. For example, I grew up in a town with a large military presence, where many families lived for two to four years before moving. Those families often lived on the military base but left the base to partake in local commerce and cultural activities. My community treated service members and their families as we would anyone else, even though those families had not “established ties.” Why? Because we saw more value in welcoming newcomers into my town than we did in judging who had lived there long enough not to face the ire of “established” residents.

It’s long past time that non-student residents and the government of Hanover treat Dartmouth students like equals. Students are one of the largest and most influential constituencies in Hanover; it is easy to see that when 730 people — most of whom are likely students — voted for Millman, compared to around 1,000 people for each of the other two candidates. 

The town’s treatment of students has historically ignored the group’s importance. That treatment must end. While Millman hoped to correct these divisions by installing a student on the Selectboard, the entire community cannot wait for the next student to follow in Millman’s footsteps. Instead, we all must begin working together as a community — student and non-student residents alike — to repair our relationship and build a better Hanover for everyone.

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