Allen: Life After Hours

Campus services must be available to students after business hours to accommodate students’ busy schedules.

by Spencer Allen | 9/13/22 4:00am

Life for Dartmouth students is busy and, in many ways, unpredictable. This is not news: Students take two or three classes — maybe even four — all the while juggling jobs, clubs, sports, friendships, family and all the other pressures of adulthood. Our days start early and end late, and despite our best intentions and meticulous planning, random inconveniences can happen without warning.

Yet, many of the most important student-facing entities on campus — health services, dining and other campus services — are only available to students during “business hours” on weekdays.

Only having these essential services be accessible to students during such strict hours puts unrealistic pressure on students to distort their lives and their activities to a rigid nine to five. Students face immense pressure from the multitude of things impacting their schedule. In recognition of this, the student-facing offices of campus should expand their hours to be more reasonable for student schedules.

One of the offices that would most directly be helpful with expanded hours is Health Services. Currently, the Primary Care office and the Counseling Center are open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. That works great — if you are an early riser or can find time for an appointment during a busy week, especially when many other students are seeking appointments. However, my peers and I have often had to wait several days to schedule appointments for acute issues such as illnesses or injuries as we juggle our schedules and the myriad health visits made by other students. What’s more, cramming appointments for therapy and other mental health visits in between classes and other daytime obligations is rather disadvantageous. Not only is it stressful to find time for an appointment — quite ironic, if I must say — but it may also be emotionally turbulent to bounce from therapy to class within minutes. And, while the Counseling Center provides Zoom appointments, the lackluster connections formed from telehealth make the service not worth it for some students. Providing more health appointment times, including in the evenings and over the weekend, can help expand coverage and offer convenient options for students.

Academic offices would also benefit from expanding their operating hours for students. While it sounds nice for students to contain their academics within general business hours, that romantic idea does not come to fruition on the Dartmouth campus. Students do homework at all times of day, and they struggle with planning their courses and academic workloads whether morning, noon or night. Some entities of the College are available during “off hours” to support students academically, like RWIT and the Tutor Clearinghouse. But those services are peer support services run mostly by students who may not necessarily be able to tackle more complex advising or bureaucratic intricacies of the College. Offering access to the professional staff at the Undergraduate Dean’s Office, the Academic Skills Center and other academic offices throughout the day would provide students access to support that they need without compromising their other commitments.

To be sure, staffing issues are among the biggest barriers to either of these options succeeding. Working a “normal” nine to five or a similar schedule is attractive to professional staff as it allows more time with kids and family in the evenings and weekends. While there may be some appeal to having student employees fill in the gaps during off-times, they lack the same level of training that professional staff possess. What’s more, having a non-student staff member working “abnormal” hours is not at all unheard of on campus. Take, for example, Baker-Berry Library, where I work as a student assistant and student manager. For years — at least outside the pandemic — we have managed to have the library open to the general public from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. until 2 a.m. on weekends during the term. During that time, there is at least one trained staff member available in the library for the overwhelming majority of our open hours. While other offices need not necessarily be open for 16 or 18 hours a day every day of the week, expanding hours to include evenings and weekends is not inconceivable.

In addition, dining is an area in which expanding hours with student employees would better serve campus. As it stands, there is no Dartmouth Dining location available to students on the West End of campus after 3:30 p.m. during the week or at all over the weekends. This adds hassle to simply eating when trying to study or avoid potentially treacherous weather throughout the year for students living or working far from other dining options. Further, in Baker-Berry Library students are limited to only one dining location, Novack Cafe, after Cafe @ Baker closes on weekdays — and when it isn’t open on weekends — often leading to extravagant lines. Students have also generally complained about the limited on-campus dining options after midnight when many are awake and active in their academics or social lives. Students cannot seek to fill all of these voids, but hiring interested students to better support the dining locations on campus would go a long way to accommodating our busy student body.

It will take significant  effort on the part of the College to offer necessary support to students during off-peak hours. Still, such investments are important for the longevity and wellbeing of the student body, many of whom find themselves caught up in the hectic day-to-day of campus life. Expanding the hours of campus services to better include times outside the standard nine to five is crucial to reaching that goal.

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