128 students remain on fall housing waitlist

Students have expressed frustration at the lack of sufficient fall housing, which has disrupted academic plans.

by Cassandra Thomas | 7/2/21 5:15am

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Juniors and seniors were assigned to the waitlist randomly.
by Alex Fredman / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

While summer is in full swing in Hanover, a housing shortage still looms over the nearly 130 students who were not approved to live on campus for the fall term. Due to the College’s lack of available beds, these students were placed on a housing waitlist, and some are struggling to scrap together alternative living plans. 

The rise in student demand for housing comes as the administration outlines plans to return to “full access” for the first time since the onset of the pandemic by Aug. 1. Current College infrastructure, however, cannot fully meet the post-pandemic surge of demand for on-campus housing.

“This fall, there is no doubt that students had an appetite to be back,” associate dean of residential life Michael Wooten said. “If you look at what the numbers are, they are a little bit higher than any fall that I’ve seen.”

For the 128 students who applied for on-campus housing and, as of June 23, were denied through the randomized system of preference, D-Plans, major requirements and thesis projects are at risk of capsizing.

Kevin Chen ’22 believed that as a rising senior who had not been on campus since the fall of 2019 and who is relying on an on-campus term this fall to complete his thesis, he would be prioritized for housing. Chen is counting on taking ASCL 70.22, “Developing Vietnam” — a class only offered in the fall — so that he can complete a study abroad trip to Vietnam over the winterim and complete his thesis by the spring.

“Since Dartmouth has practically told us they’re not offering any more remote options, if I’m not able to take those classes, then my entire plan is in jeopardy,” Chen said.

Chen has so far been denied the opportunity to live on campus in the fall and was placed on the  waitlist earlier this summer, upending his thesis and graduation plans. When he reached out to his undergraduate dean, their only advice was to start searching for off-campus housing. Chen immediately began to look for off-campus housing, but the search in the Upper Valley’s overcrowded housing market has been fraught.

Chen said that even if he does find a viable option, he would grapple with a new set of issues involved with getting to campus.

“The Advanced Transit bus line does run through the Upper Valley, but the times are pretty inconvenient for a college student,” Chen said. “I usually stay pretty late at campus to study or participate in extracurriculars, and those lines stop running at [4:30 p.m.] sharp.”

Like many other Dartmouth students, Chen said that time away from campus has seriously impacted his social life and friendships.

“I haven’t been on campus for two years, haven’t seen anyone around my age since I live in a pretty rural area,” Chen said. “I mean, how do you socialize on Zoom? It’s just a very tough situation.”

Any plans to reunite with other students have been further delayed for Chen. He said his dean pointed him to mental health resources without suggesting other solutions.

In response to the demand for on-campus housing, the College sent an email on June 14 about the randomized lottery that would give students $5000 to give up a claim to on-campus housing. An email sent on June 15 also said that financial aid packages would be “affected,” without going into further detail.

Cassidy Nicks ’23, who was put on the waitlist alongside Chen, said this remedy would be ineffective for students on financial aid who did not receive on-campus housing.

“I don’t think there’s been any prioritization or help in the last year for financial aid students or financially needy students at all,” Nicks said. “The way they did the housing system completely randomly actually seems like a pretty horrible thing for me … Even if I could find off-campus housing, I probably couldn’t afford it. And the lottery lowers your financial aid significantly, which makes it pretty much useless for me.”

Although Chen said he wishes the College would take housing waitlist queries on a case-by-case basis, Wooten said that the Office of Residential Life believed the random lottery system would be the most just way to provide alternatives.

“What we’re trying is to have a process that is as fair as possible,” Wooten said. “We had a demand which exceeded the supply this year. It would be really difficult for us to operate on an intricate case-by-case basis in which we determine which people deserve beds more than others. There are lots of good reasons that all students deserve a bed on the campus.”

Wooten also said that, typically, the waitlist goes down over time as students commit to other plans for the fall, such as study abroad opportunities and Living Learning Community housing. However, with programs and living plans still being affected by the pandemic, it is yet to be seen how many people will be drawn to other housing opportunities.

According to Nicks, it is nearly impossible to find housing for undergraduates in the Upper Valley at this point in the summer.

“I’ve checked Airbnb, Vrbo, various different listservs and real estate offices that [do] things both on campus and off, and there is nothing on their sites,” Nicks said. “… There is nothing in the Hanover area right now and very little within 10 miles away.”

Like Chen, Nicks was advised by her dean to hope that she gets taken off of the waitlist or find a place to live off-campus. On the whole, Nicks says that muddy explanations from the College have made the process all the more taxing.

“It feels like we’ve been told what’s going to happen without any input from us,” Nicks said. “The inability to get in touch with someone who can actually help and the feeling like the administration is just making these decisions without any input from the people they affect is incredibly frustrating.”  

On June 30, the ORL notified students on the waitlist of the option to petition, until September 1, for a transfer term this fall at another institution. Few other options remain for those not approved to live on campus, aside from waiting.

“I just wish there was a more human response from the school to everyone on the waitlist,” Chen said.