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The Dartmouth
March 4, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Farquharson: The Two Worlds of Dartmouth

Dartmouth must finally end decades of painfully run-down housing and upgrade its dormitories.

You head up East Wheelock Street, passing by the gym and South House residences. Perhaps you’re on the Dartmouth Coach or driving yourself. Suddenly, there it is — the Green, Rauner’s Corinthian columns and, of course, Baker Tower. What better welcome could you expect than the panoramic image in front of you?

You might have expected that the beguiling beauty of the main campus also carried over to the place you literally call home — your dorm. Although a subjective matter, for some of you, your  expectations were likely met. Others were not so lucky. You might’ve comfortably taken your belongings up the McLaughlin elevator to the fourth floor, where a quiet, carpeted hallway led to your cozy two-room double — or even a single, if you were so lucky. Right next door is a private restroom adjacent to a private shower, and your room is only a short walk from the common area, equipped with a kitchen and functional TV. It might not be a five-star hotel, but without a doubt, it’s pretty nice. 

Yet, that experience isn’t familiar to many students. Perhaps you were instead greeted by the depressing, almost ramshackle Choates cluster. Upon entering a claustrophobically tight hallway, you have to haul all your things up three flights of narrow stairs, as there’s no elevator! At the last stop on your journey you step into your one-room double, prison-like white bricks galore, which also seems to be no larger than a single elsewhere. I don’t think I have the power to describe the River cluster at this point. I need not exacerbate your or my angst. 

Non-students might be thinking that I’ve exaggerated a bit. Regardless, it is impossible to deny that glaring housing disparities exist on campus. The randomized housing placement process rewards a lucky few with residence in one of the nice, perhaps “hotel-like,” dorms. Those that come to mind are, of course, the McLaughlin and East Wheelock clusters. Both boast more modern facilities, such as elevators, spacious rooms and more functional heating systems. But others are tossed into older, decaying dorms like the Choates or River clusters, with tight hallways and stairs, a lack of elevators and communal bathrooms and showers. It’s almost certain that you’re in for heating issues or uncomfortable waits to use the restrooms. 

The two worlds of housing at Dartmouth can have a profound impact on students’ level of satisfaction and overall experience. The countless times I’ve heard spirited congratulations for living in McLaughlin and expressions of deep pity for Choaters reflect a real stigma that is associated with where students — particularly freshmen — are housed. The feelings of luck, relief and pride among those in nicer housing, and dissatisfaction and resentment of those in lower quality housing, can play a substantial role in students’ overall attitude towards the College and their experience therein. Yet, this is an issue the College has overlooked for decades.

Most of Dartmouth’s dorms were built before World War II and have rarely been maintained or improved — even some of the “nice” dorms that I mentioned have faced mold issues. Most shocking was the College’s decision to cut off all AC service last summer due to “consistency” concerns. Instead of making everyone equally miserable, why not install AC in all dorm buildings? 

The College must speed up its investment in improved campus housing. Eliminating the decades of housing inequity should be a top priority. Given Dartmouth’s financial resources, there should be little issue in modernizing and renovating campus housing. The College proposed a 12-year plan to renovate most of its dorms. According to an email statement from senior director of project management services Patrick O’Hern, it has already begun renovating Andres and Zimmerman Halls with more single-user bathrooms, elevators, more common areas and sustainable infrastructure. There is also a plan to renovate the Fayerweather cluster with more modern interiors, air conditioning, improved accessibility and other ways to increase resident comfort. This is a good start, and the College should make clear its specific plans for renovating other older dorms soon so that achieving housing equity can be as prompt as possible. 

Twelve years seems to be quite a long time — the Class of 2038 will likely be the first to enjoy the completion of renovations. Of course, there is a good reason for this long duration, but there needs to be alternative housing for students while renovations happen. The Lyme Road project and other proposals seek to solve this issue. Altogether, it would no doubt take years to build this extra housing and renovate older dorms. 

However, there are several drawbacks to the Lyme project. Many Hanover residents are opposed to the project, as they fear it would affect traffic safety and the “character of the area,” as well as cause late-night and early-morning disturbances, according to the Valley News. Moreover, faculty have warned that the project’s distance from campus could affect undergraduates’ “intellectual life.”

The College should pursue other solutions to house students during renovations. One solution might be to add more beds to the current “good dorms” by suspending the current limit on the number of beds per square feet and placing more students in these nicer buildings. However, this would almost certainly draw complaints from students, so it might not be an ideal solution. The College could also temporarily reduce the number of undergraduates admitted while dorms are renovated. Though no solution is perfect, they are necessary for the realization of acceptable housing. 

It is about time that the College finally heeds students’ need for housing equity. It has incessantly ignored the glaring inconsistency among dorm buildings, leaving many students disgruntled with both their subpar living conditions and the College’s inaction. We the students seem to be all alone in our call for housing consistency. Decades of indifference have severely impacted students’ trust in the administration. If the College hopes to change its unjust ways and provide equitable living conditions, it must hear our call — vox clamantis in an uncarpeted, freezing cold River dorm.