Verbum Ultimum: As Cold As Ice
Dartmouth must do more to ensure students have adequate heating in their residences.
This weekend, temperatures in the Upper Valley are predicted to drop to treacherously low levels, with some news outlets predicting wind chills between -20 and -30 degrees Fahrenheit. The College has taken many precautions to warn students about the risks of such low temperatures. Residential Operations sent an email explaining ways for students to keep their rooms warmer and Student Government emailed to inform students about a bus system that will pick them up and drop them off at their dorm clusters. And with a campus-wide email warning about the health risks of such cold temperatures — particularly when drinking —the College has taken important steps to ensure students are aware of the risks this weekend.
Although we sincerely appreciate the proactive steps the College has taken to educate students during this cold snap, this knowledge does not address the most pressing concern as the temperatures begin to plummet: Student residences lack adequate heating.
Both on and off campus, many residences do not have adequate heating systems. While part of this issue for on-campus residences is due to old, poorly sealed windows — an admission Residential Operations even made in its campus-wide email — a much larger part of this problem stems from outdated and poorly maintained heating systems.
Stories about radiators that don’t adequately heat up dorm rooms, or central heating that heats rooms to radically different temperatures depending on the day, are all too common. In fact, members of this Editorial Board have experienced one if not both of these occurrences during their time at Dartmouth. In other cases, windows may seal so poorly that the heating systems simply can’t account for the cold air flowing into rooms.
In its email to students, Residential Operations offers questionable solutions to some of these problems. If students suspect their room is cold due to poorly sealed windows, Residential Operationsinstructs them to “roll a towel up and use it to block the draft” and ensure that their beds are not positioned directly next to exterior windows. What’s more, they instruct all students to wear many layers even in their dorms. Although these seem like adequate solutions in the short-term, they reveal an unsettling truth that the College is clearly aware of: Studentsare likely struggling to keep warm due to infrastructure deficiencies in dorms that are out of our control.
Some may argue that even if students’ radiators don’t work as well as they should or if a window isn’t fully sealed, it’s not that big of a deal — they won’t freeze. While we agree that in the vast majority of cases this is true, it is frustrating that a well-resourced college is advising students to rearrange their entire bedroom and dress with multiple layers while in their rooms, while failing to acknowledge their systemic shortcomings. And this is not a one-off experience — the College has sent these emails in years past, and yet they continue to let time go by without working on fixing the issue.
Graduate students living on campus deal with these same problems, and those who live off-campus may encounter even worse situations. In the case of some graduate students in off-campus housing, freezing from the cold while in their rooms is a real fear. Some students have reported living in residences so poorly insulated that they have icicles in their microwave — even when temperatures outside are well above zero. Others have electricity that is so inefficient they can’t keep up with the rate that their apartment burns through lightbulbs — faced with the cold of this weekend, we can only imagine how high their heating bill will be and whether they can afford to keep warm. Given how expensive and poorly maintained off-campus housing is and the current lack of graduate student on-campus housing and in short, it’s a lose-lose situation.
Dartmouth prides itself on its location and access to all four seasons — and yet, when the inevitable freezing temperatures of winter hit, as they do every year, Dartmouth is unable to keep its students warm. Besides being irresponsible, this is also a wholly avoidable problem. While it may be hard to do maintenance on heating systems and windows during the normal academic year, the summer provides ample opportunity to fix these problems during periods when student enrollment is low. Although we are aware that Dartmouth often uses dorms during the summer for camps and other purposes, we argue that it would not be difficult to work out a system to preemptively work on the heating.
Additionally, forcing graduate students into bad, even unsafe living conditions due to a failure to provide enough housing for the current student body is unacceptable. No Dartmouth student — no matter their age — should have to worry about how they will manage the cold winter months. At the very least, it is vital that the College provides graduate students with ample resources to stay warm, whether that be providing space heaters or increasing stipends during the winter months — any solution is better than the current lack of acknowledgment that a problem exists.
In short, if Dartmouth wants to fully embrace its sense of place in the Northwoods, it is imperative that the College provides students with the resources and housing to safely and comfortably endure it.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.