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Highland Park, Ill. is a town that anyone would be lucky to grow up in. Nestled along the shores of Lake Michigan, its tree-lined streets are idyllic and safe. It’s a small, tightly intertwined community that is vibrant and diverse.
Last week, the Dartmouth administration sent an email to members of the Class of 2024 with new information regarding D-Plan selection. A new clause has been added limiting students to seven fall and spring residence terms rather than the eight normally available fall and spring terms over a four-year college period. This means that students’ D-Plans must now include at least one leave term in the fall or spring of sophomore, junior, or senior year. Given that students are required to have twelve total residence terms (whether on campus or on an abroad program), the new guideline makes taking a winter term off a much more difficult maneuver. This decision to change D-Plan guidelines for the Class of 2024 and future classes deprives students of flexibility for the sake of temporarily solving the housing issue on campus.
Dartmouth’s housing issue is far from new. The College has faced challenges since it began admitting women in 1972, which drastically increased the student population. Since then, the College has implemented the D-Plan, putting students on a constant rotation of off-terms and study abroad programs. The D-Plan somewhat thins out the on-campus population for any given term, keeping housing in check. Despite this fix, the underlying truth remains that there are more Dartmouth students than Dartmouth beds.
As on-campus students approach the middle of winter term, COVID-19 still maintains a presence in Hanover. The current number of active cases among students sits at 10. This number, while seemingly low, is relatively high compared to the numbers throughout fall term. Even with a vaccine in sight, outbreaks are still possible. Contact tracing — tracking where someone who has tested positive went, with whom and for how long — is often key to mitigating the spread of cases. Contact tracing has always been a part of the administration’s plan to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but with one change, it can become much more effective. In order to best protect the health of the community, Dartmouth should institute an amnesty policy for students involved in contact tracing after a student tests positive.
This fall has seen an unknown number of students, many of them ’24s, sent home for violating the College’s COVID-19 restrictions — most commonly, it seems, the limit on the number of students allowed in dorm rooms. Several students have testified to their experiences, recounting that their floors have been almost entirely cleared of people — some all at once, and some over the course of the term. The College’s rules on gathering limits leave ’24s between a rock and a hard place: To obey the strict rules, students must sacrifice their social and mental well-being. Amid this dilemma, it is clear that the students are not failing the administration — the administration is failing its students.
In the leadup to fall term, the town of Hanover openly voiced its fears that the return of students would lead to a rise in the area’s otherwise low number of COVID-19 cases. For the stated reason of protecting safety of the town and the College, the Dartmouth administration has put in place a series of strict — albeit understandable — regulations on students’ lives. For example, on-campus students cannot gather in groups larger than nine people and cannot have guests in their dorm room unless they live in the same building. Additionally, classes remain almost exclusively online.