Levin & van Schalkwyk: Dartmouth is not a Commuter Campus
The Lyme Housing Project is inconsistent with Dartmouth’s core values
All of us here at Dartmouth are familiar with the core values that bind us together: our mission of learning and growing; our sense of community and collegiality; our commitment to integrity and equitability and our love of the outdoors, to name a few. Thus, all of us should be shocked and even outraged that the Dartmouth administration is on the verge of starting a major new construction project that is utterly inconsistent with those core values — namely, the proposed housing complex on Lyme Road. The clock is ticking, but it’s not too late to consider the pitfalls of this project. The scarcity and quality of student housing is truly abysmal, so the administration urgently needs to consider other remedies that don’t conflict with Dartmouth’s core values.
According to Google Maps, the Lyme Road complex will be a 30-minute walk from Dartmouth Hall. Consequently, the administration is promising that a shuttle service will run every 15-20 minutes around the clock. A direct trip from the complex to the Green might take only a few minutes if there’s no morning traffic clogging up Lyme Road. But the shuttle will presumably make a bunch of stops, so reaching the center of campus will take substantially longer than that.
This sort of commuting pattern might be common at some urban campuses but will come as a shock to the Dartmouth students who will be assigned to live at the Lyme Road complex. Under the administration’s current plans, about 400 students will spend a significant slice of each day on a shuttle bus. In effect, nearly 10% of all Dartmouth undergraduates will be spending lots of time waiting for the bus and anxious about getting to campus in time for a class. And someone who wakes up a bit late won’t be able to sprint to class; they will have to wait for the next shuttle bus and hope that it doesn’t get delayed by traffic backups on the way to campus.
Indeed, most students at Dartmouth don’t just go to class and then return to their dorms once a day. Some students need to make multiple daily trips to engage in laboratory work. Many students have on-campus jobs, especially those from less-advantaged backgrounds. And the vast majority of students are involved in extracurricular activities that are a core aspect of everyday life at Dartmouth. All of these students will be faced with the choice of spending huge amounts of time riding on shuttle buses or simply not returning to their residence for extended periods of time.
Dartmouth’s sense of community is strengthened by having student residences close to the center of campus. A sleepy student walking to a morning class gets energized by meeting a friend. A tired student heading home from the library sees a classmate and they grab an evening snack.
By contrast, such interactions will not be facilitated by riding on a noisy shuttle that makes frequent stops.
Indeed, one of our deepest concerns about the Lyme Housing project is that it could exacerbate a sense of loneliness and isolation for some of the students living there. The tragic deaths of students that have occurred in the past several years are still fresh in our minds. And it seems horrifying to imagine that something similar could happen at a housing project far removed from the center of campus. Launching such a project seems completely at odds with the administration’s commitment to fostering mental health and well-being.
The Greek system is a longstanding feature here at Dartmouth. In recent years, the administration has made a concerted effort to create and strengthen the student House network to serve as an appealing residential option. Unfortunately, the Lyme Road project will substantially undermine the equitability of student housing and potentially push students toward the community and residential spaces offered by Greek chapters. Some students may have the resources to own a car and live off campus instead of being stuck out on Lyme Road without a car. Meanwhile, others may have the know-how and connections to avoid being housed in the Lyme Road complex. Consequently, we are concerned that the complex will have a disproportionately high number of students from less-advantaged backgrounds. Such an outcome seems utterly inconsistent with the administration’s commitment to fostering diversity, inclusion and equitability at Dartmouth.
The current plans will also exacerbate existing inequities regarding meals and healthy lifestyles. Residents at the Lyme Road complex will still be required to enroll in the Dartmouth meal plan. Students from more advantaged backgrounds will be able to purchase groceries and cook some of their meals in the apartment-style kitchens at the complex, but less-advantaged students won’t
have those privileges. In fact, we’re worried that a large fraction of students will have less access to healthy nutrition and will end up skipping meals or resorting to snacks and processed foods.
Dartmouth urgently needs to address the scarcity and poor quality of student housing. But the administration should be focused on options for expanded housing adjacent to campus while maintaining green areas surrounding the campus. This proposed complex will be located at the far northern end of what is now a huge open space that stretches west from the Connecticut River to Lyme Road and north from the Dartmouth Outdoor Center to Reservoir Road (the route to Storrs Pond). That open space is currently filled with trees, grass, wildflowers and trails that students and local residents enjoy using for Nordic skiing in winter and walking during other seasons. Recent research has documented the importance of green spaces in fostering mental health and wellbeing.
Indeed, among many concerns raised at a recent Hanover Zoning Board hearing, one compelling question was not addressed by Dartmouth representatives: Will this project open the door to ongoing development of the entire green area over coming years, accompanied by a dramatic expansion in student enrollment? Such plans might seem cost-effective from a purely financial perspective but would markedly change the character of the campus. Is such a future truly consistent with Dartmouth’s core values?
The Way Forward
Given that the Lyme Road complex will have such lasting consequences, one might imagine that the administration had given very careful consideration to all of these issues before moving forward. Unfortunately, this project has been rushed forward without adequate consideration of the strategic issues and practical details. For example, the architectural plans were designed to include parking space for about 100 student vehicles. At last week’s zoning board hearing, however, the administration abruptly announced a complete overhaul of those plans, which will now prohibit any undergraduate student parking at the complex. Officials also mentioned that parking could be added later if needed.
Before proceeding with the construction of this project, it is imperative that the College administration conduct a series of town halls to engage with students and faculty on these issues. We urge every Dartmouth student to explain these issues to your parents and to reach out to alumni, who can exert significant influence on the administration’s decisions. The future of Dartmouth truly depends on our working together as a community to protect its core values.
Andrew Levin is a professor in the Department of Economics. Alex van Schalkwyk is a member of the Class of 2023 is a leader of the Sadie Alexander Association at Dartmouth
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