A house, not a house: students express their ambivalence towards home communities

While housing communities can provide a social outlet, some students feel as though they are isolating themselves in the process.

by Meghan Powers | 6 minutes ago

This article is featured in the Spring 2021 special issue.

Since the inception of the Dartmouth House Communities in 2016, the system has garnered as much criticism as it has praise, but it perhaps inspires no sense of apathy. A survey led by The Dartmouth in January 2020 revealed that 73% of students disagreed with the statement: “I feel a strong sense of community with those in my home.”

Many students, like David Millman 23, do not feel strongly for or against the house system. Although Millman calls his views “neutral,” he doesn’t think the system is necessary and doesn’t add much value to the campus.

“My biggest problem with [the house system] is that he’s trying to meet a need that isn’t there, ”Millman said.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered the social scene on campus and left a void once filled with Greek life, face-to-face club meetings and in-person classes. Without these spaces to provide community for Class of 2024 members, has the house system been able to fill a newly formed niche?

For Nicolas Macri ’24, home communities did the opposite, and only served to reinforce the limits of socialization. Last fall, students were banned from entering dormitories except the one they lived in due to pandemic precautions, which Macri said restricted his social circle to people from West House and limited his ability to connect with students from other houses.

“Over the summer I met dozens of friends from Dartmouth on GroupMe, and we were all very excited to see each other in the fall,” said Macri. “When we got there pretty much everyone I knew was at School House.”

Macri said he recognizes the potential of house communities as a means of community building and has even attended a few Zoom House events, including a murder mystery party and an escape room. Still, especially during the pandemic, he said the house system has as much potential for isolating students as it does for welcoming them.

“[The pandemic] greatly heightened the feeling of, “Oh, since I haven’t been fortunate enough to be randomly assigned to the same dorm as my friends, I’m not allowed to see them,” Macri said. “I don’t know how much this applies now, because we are much more free, but the damage is always done to [’24s] who were here in the fall.

Samantha Palermo 24, a resident of North Park – the smallest of the six houses – feels the same. While she appreciates the community provided by North Park, she notes the dissonance between what she expected from the home system and what her experience has shown.

“[Originally] I thought, ‘That’s cool! We’re going to be sorted like Harry Potter, ”she said. “I arrived here and now I have mixed feelings about it.”

Palermo said that although she has gotten close to her freshman floor – North Park, she said, is small enough to create a “sense of community” – and enjoys the events hosted by the house, she thinks also that the home system creates barriers that make it more difficult for her to communicate with people outside her home.

“I have a really good friend in a different housing community, so we even now know that we will never be able to live together unless we live off campus, because of these barriers,” Palermo said.

Perhaps the most notorious policy of Dartmouth House Communities is that students who want to live in the apartment buildings of their house after their first year should choose roommates from within their community. For Macri, the rule is a strange decision.

“It’s pretty arbitrary to say ‘You can’t play Dartmouth’s five-sixths’ for no reason,” Macri said.

Some students noted that there are inequalities between the houses. Only a few residences with printers, for example, posed a problem for Palermo.

“During the quarantine, when the library was closed, people in some housing communities had access to printers to print academic documents, and I didn’t,” Palermo said.

East Wheelock Senator and former East Wheelock House Council chairman Angel Aguilar ’22 identifies with these struggles, but said he hopes the function of house communities can be rethought for students :

“I think the students on the whole assume that there isn’t much to offer from the housing communities,” Aguilar said. “In their mind, it’s this unnecessary group of students that provides minimal community. In my opinion, housing communities offer the potential to do what students are passionate about.

One of the projects Aguilar was most proud to have led was a trip from East Wheelock to New York – tragically scheduled for April 2020. Although that trip was canceled due to the pandemic, he is optimistic about it. what home communities might look like in the future.

“I hope that in the future, students can recognize housing communities as a way to showcase their projects, passions and ambitions,” said Aguilar. “Once people realize that, housing communities will be that structure that students can rely on for programming, events, counseling, mentoring – that’s all students want. is.

Millman, on the other hand, has suggested that many of the home system’s alleged goals do not actually require its existence.

“The question is, I don’t know what community he’s trying to build,” Millman said. “We have this kind of residential thing at Hogwarts. There’s a lot of community development in the dorms in particular, and the house systems are tied to the dorms, but it’s something that happens intrinsically.

The house system, in that sense, may seem like just gift-wrapping communities that would have formed anyway, with house flags and events to boot. Macri’s criticism of the system goes in the same direction; he noted its exclusivity. Events, for example, are often only organized for students from a certain household.

“It’s good to have a sense of community, but the problem is that the changes made [by the house system] are restrictive, not additive, ”said Macri.

Palermo said she was grateful for any community building opportunity in Dartmouth and expressed her joy at receiving treats like the teddy bear she got from North Park, but things like events and goods are pleasant non-essentials that don’t prevail when they go to the head. facing serious housing concerns.

“I do not want [the house system] disappear completely, ”said Palermo. “It’s good to build this small community. At the same time, it is difficult to have the restrictions that come with it. “

Students do not seem to gravitate towards extremes of esteem or vitriol regarding the home system, and there is no real reason to believe that will change in the future, as this impression has been maintained even during the pandemic. For now at least, it appears that the Dartmouth housing system has yet to strike an appropriate balance between the effective promotion of a community and the freedom of students to develop friendships outside the system.

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