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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hogwarts or Hogwash? First-Years Discuss Housing Communities

One writer reports on the purpose of the housing communities at Dartmouth and first-years’ responses to them.


Throughout Orientation Week at Dartmouth, the ’27s were repeatedly asked the same question: When have you felt like you belonged? Housing communities at Dartmouth were designed to address this question by providing first-years with an immediate sense of community. 

However, housing communities have been controversial since their founding seven years ago. In the past, the system has garnered some negative reviews, along with praise. This week, Mirror investigates the justification for the system and explores current first-years’ experiences in their housing communities. 

The summer before entering Dartmouth, each student is randomly assigned to one of six housing communities — Allen House, East Wheelock House, North Park House, School House, South House and West House — each designating a specific region or cluster of dormitories on campus. Students who decide to live on campus are required to live within their designated-housing community dormitories for all four years at Dartmouth, unless they live in a Living Learning Community or Greek House. Moreover, each housing community hosts a variety of activities each week for its students, from catered dinners and puppy therapy hours to weekend trips to New York City or Boston

The housing communities were originally proposed as a part of College President emeritus Phil Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative, and the system was eventually implemented in 2016 to ensure that each student would have a place where they belonged within Dartmouth’s community, according to assistant director of West House Jodi Ann Blackburn.

“The goals are to develop community, to provide intellectual engagement and to create opportunities for students to have access to all the wonderful resources that Dartmouth attracts,” Blackburn said. 

Allen House professor Janice McCabe seconded this, emphasizing the role of housing communities as a social safety net for students to fall back on.

“You belong just because you are here,” McCabe said. “You don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to apply, which is different than a lot of other groups on campus.”

The housing communities also offer an accessible space in which students have direct opportunities to get to know a professor closely. 

“Getting to know the students is my favorite part,” McCabe said. “Some of that is through not just doing things together but the conversations that can happen.”

Despite these goals, many students dislike that the system does not allow students to live in dormitories with members of other houses. In order to room with students in other houses, students must find off-campus housing, live in a Greek space or be a part of an LLC — options which are often limited and can be far from the main campus.

Mansi Mathur ’27, a member of X house, said  the housing communities can become restrictive.

“I understand that School House is trying to create a bond, but at the same time, if you find your community in a different space, you shouldn’t not be allowed to room with them,” Mathur said. 

Blackburn stressed  that the housing system can coexist with other communities on campus: for instance, Greek life.

“[Greek life] is an addition. You don’t leave West House to be in Greek life,” Blackburn said. “Students can be involved in many different communities, like a club sport, acappella, Greek life, all in addition to the housing community. It does not have to be an either-or situation.” 

Mathur stated that she hopes the system will have a communal impact on first-year students' lives.

“I would love for it to be like Hogwarts, where your house is everything,” Mathur said. “But it’s not. So it’s hard to really get into it.” 

As a first-year student, I cannot predict how I might feel about housing communities in a year or so. The housing system was not something I was aware of when applying to Dartmouth, and the Dartmouth alumni that I spoke with did not mention it much given its recent implementation. But so far, it has worked well for me. The start of college can be lonely, and housing communities provide a range of social events. They strive to bond students together. At the beginning of college, it is comforting to have a noncompetitive, unconditional community to be a part of. 

Ellie Langdon ’27 said that students’ will get out of their housing community what they put into it: Everyone can choose how much they invest and engage with the system.

“[The housing system] does foster community,” she said. “It’s just a matter of how much you take advantage of it.”