Dartmouth’s culture defines itself through its long-lasting traditions, which create a community of shared experiences. These traditions, such as the Homecoming Bonfire, Winter Carnival and First-Year Trips, are a vital part of what it means to be a Dartmouth student. Without the continuity of these unique traditions, the identity of the College and its students would be completely altered. In 2016, the College introduced the house communities, a change to student life that could potentially be ingrained in the school’s tradition. The system addressed complaints from alumni who claimed that, due to the D-Plan and other factors, they often did not know anyone on their floor in their respective residence halls while they were students. Consequently, many treated their room assignments as simply somewhere to sleep, rather than a community.
Since the implementation of the new system, it has received mixed responses from the student body. While many feel that it has been a positive change and created a greater community among students, others consider it unnecessary and restrictive of housing options. Currently, the student body widely regards the housing system negatively, as 60% of the Class of 2023 viewed housing communities unfavorably. However, with improvements, the system could become an appreciated tradition and a valuable aspect of the Dartmouth identity.
When entering Dartmouth your first year, students join one of six houses at random: Allen House, East Wheelock House, North Park House, School House, South House or West House. As seen in the image above, each house has a section of the campus’s dorms that the house members will live in for as long as they live in dorms on campus. Also, house communities are located near their respective community centers — such as the Onion or the Cube — in which they may study and hangout in.
The communities’ administration — led by a faculty dean and a selected group of students — is responsible for coordinating events and trips for members. For example, South House (the community to which I belong) held a trip to Six Flags Fright Fest. While house communities do not frequently go on trips as exciting as this, houses have weekly events that offer food and merchandise — such as sweatshirts, hats, water bottles, etc. — to students that attend. From these events and the close proximity in which students live together for four years, the housing system can create a sense of community that goes beyond just being a student.
Ideally, all students would appreciate the tighter community created by living with the same group of students for several years. However, due to flaws in the system stemming from the random sorting, many students feel frustrated with house communities. Upon entering their first year, the College — without input from students — decides where they will live for the next four years. However, there is undeniable geographical disparity between houses — which makes sense, considering that the campus was not originally built to accommodate the house communities. Houses such as School House and South House are considerably more centrally located than West House and East Wheelock House.
The disparities in location may either greatly benefit or disadvantage a student depending upon their major. For example, engineering students would greatly benefit from being members of Allen House and West House due to their proximity to Thayer School of Engineering but would be disadvantaged from being members of East Wheelock and South House, which are on the opposite side of campus. Moreover, the housing system denies students the ability to be roommates with students outside of their housing community. The system reduces the potential roommate pool to a sixth of the student body. By restricting potential roommates to this degree, students that want to live in dorms with their friends from other house communities are forced to live off campus in apartments, houses or in Greek housessocieties, which are not affordable to all students. Both of these factors affect student quality of life and create frustration and animosity towards the residential housing system.
The house communities address issues of community that have been present in the past, but, in doing so, created new residential problems of their own. Students value the system’s community yet desire more choice of roommate and dorm location options. As a first-year, the housing system has positively impacted my time at the College and made South House a key part of my Dartmouth experience. Due to this, I believe that the residential housing community should remain unchanged for freshmen; however, changes should be made to the system so that it may be appreciated rather than resented by upperclassmen.
One possible solution would be to eliminate the housing restrictions for students who have declared their major. This would allow students in house communities far from their major the opportunity to request to live in a dorm more conveniently located based on their major and, therefore, shorten their commute to classes. Another potential solution would be to create a trade option within the houses. Students that want to live somewhere else on campus or room with students of another house could have the option to trade house communities with another consenting student. While the Office of Residential Life already offers the option to swap rooms with another student, a house trade would be a more permanent trade. With improvements, the house communities could eliminate their systemic flaws and give more freedom in residential options to students and, consequently, would be appreciated by all students.
Currently, students do not value the house communities enough to consider it an impactful part of their identity and sense of place at Dartmouth. The system has redeeming aspects in its ability to create a tighter community; however, its shortcomings create frustration and resentment amongin students, which prevents it from being an appreciated aspect of students’ college experience. Should the College improve the flaws of the house communities, they may become an integral part of Dartmouth and a more valued tradition, alongside the Homecoming Bonfire, Winter Carnival and First-Year Trips.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.