A Tragedy of Common Rooms

Three students sent in letters upon catching wind of rumblings that the College is interested in expanding its student body:

 

 

My name is Zachary Port, and I live in a common room. A spacious common room, but a common room nonetheless. If you would like to know how I ended up in a common room, the story goes something like this: School House ran out of rooms during the room draw period, leaving those so unfortunate as to have drawn a low room number, by default, in the bureaucratic purgatory known as the housing waitlist.

From May to mid-August my roommate and my housing status remained unchanged and undefined, as if Franz Kafka had been appointed interim Dean of Residential Affairs. Housing sent emails offering opportunities to join a one-room double in the Global Village Living Learning Community, Alpha Theta, or La Casa, looking to make me not their problem. It was as if they were an airline and had overbooked a flight, only instead of being offered a $200 travel voucher, I had my pick of housing options whose names would make the even guy in charge of naming Disney World resorts cringe.

At last, my patience expired. I picked up my phone one morning in August and dialed up Residential Affairs demanding to speak to whomever was in charge. “She is not in at the moment, but will call you back within the hour.” That hour turned into three, which turned into the late afternoon, when, at 5:00 PM, my situation was resolved: I was given a common room which “is normally a student lounge” but had been “converted” for my roommate and me.

I have come to learn that my room is haunted by the ghosts of old Dartmouth from eons past, perpetually awake and laboring on papers and problem sets into the wee hours of daybreak. Others slumber on the couch for weeks, having been sexiled by their more fortunate roommates whose girlfriends had come to visit from afar. These are the paranormal entities that make their appearances known at the end of an involved night on the town.

The room has beds, dressers, and desks, but if that’s all that makes a room, Kemeny 008 could be great option as the first one-room quad. On second thought: professors’ offices by day, student dormitories by night. I might have one of the larger “dorm rooms” on campus, but that is not the point. One can only go to the bathroom at night and get locked out of his room so many times before he can fairly demand that his door not lock only from the outside.

It is in that spirit – of using dorm rooms exclusively as dorm room – that I suggest the Dartmouth administration first rectify my situation before admitting another 1000 students.

 

Sincerely yours,

Zachary P. Port

 

 

Mr. Port,

With all due respect, my name is Sir Isaac William Alksalot and as a resident of the distant community known as the River, it is I who is best equipped to discuss the matter of student body expansion. You see, you live on the prestigious Massachusetts Row, have a cavernous room, and enjoy the convenience of a hop, skip, and a jump to anywhere on campus. As for me… each morning I must rise before the sun breaks over the horizon. I lace my hefty hiking boots, throw my frame pack over my shoulder, and begin my haul towards campus. The feats of those souls who travel the Appalachian Trail pale in comparison to my daily hike. On my way I must traverse past the bodies of my fallen floor mates laying in exhaustion on the sides of the trail. Arms outreached, they beg for assistance, but I must trek on, lest I join them roadside. Those who claim Everest is the most grueling test of physical endurance have clearly never attempted a visit to the River. It has become legend back in my dorm that Sir Edmund Hillary did not perish on Everest, but rather haunts the path to the River, where he met his true match. I have been told that there once was a shortcut to FoCo that existed, but that it is so dangerous, and so treacherous, that all that remains is a graveyard full of those who dared to make the leap and died trying.

 

Rather than spending money on hot air balloon rides tethered down to the Green, the school should instead invest in helipads at both the River and on the Green. However, despite its issues, there remains some upside to my otherworldly living community. I fear not a nuclear missile strike on Dartmouth Hall, for I know that I am well outside the blast radius of any conventional weaponry (so fire away, Rocket Man). And late at night, I am soothed to sleep by the blissful purr of NASA’s reconnaissance probe as it collects samples of our distant world.

 

As the College considers building new housing to for a larger student body, I can only imagine the undiscovered lands upon which they will base this housing. Christopher Columbus would have been jealous of the freshman souls who each day will travel to their own new world in the wilderness, perhaps they may even be the ones to discover a new Northwest Passage.

 

I would like to point out the obvious lack of space within a reasonable proximity to the center of our campus. Adding dorms will dilute the campus culture, and if Dartmouth is to take pride in itself as the smallest school in the Ivy league, its campus ought to be concentrated so that it is conducive to a tight community. Designed to be a walking campus, Dartmouth cannot forsake its fundamental characteristic of being the small school on the hill. I hereby demand bullet train service to the River before new dorms get built.

 

Humbly yours,

Sir I. W. Alksalot

 

 

 

Sir Alksalot,

 

I find your sufferings lamentable, but I must note that it is without a doubt, I, who is most unfortunate… as I live in the Choates.

 

I am none other than Scrod Herringford, and I am in dire need of humanitarian aid. I used to be a wise young boy in high school, but having not slept in the four weeks since I arrived on campus, my brain has lost much of its mental capacity.  The hum of the improvised diesel generator that powers my minifridge keeps me awake to hear the frantic scurrying of unidentified creatures within the walls until, finally, the putrid stench of soiled hallways wafts into my nose in the morning. The flickering of the decades-old fluorescent tube lights induces a fit of epilepsy when I open my eyes. What is this hell on Earth, you ask? What is this waking existential nightmare? It is a place, known only in a frightened whisper, as “the Choates.” This complex of four freshman dorms was meant to be only temporary housing for Dartmouth’s expanding student population after the GI Bill. That was over fifty-five years ago, and today in 2017, it is still standing… but just barely. The Choates has witnessed more than many Americans: the moon landings, the end of the Vietnam War, the Watergate Scandal, and even some of Phil Hanlon’s freshman escapades. Now they are home to hundreds of beleaguered freshmen, including myself, my two roommates, and several rare varieties of black mold.

Venturing into the dank, crusted corridors of Bissell, where I live, one has to dodge an undulating rat king that feasts on the garbage students pile into the halls. Freshmen, sick with “the Plague,” huddle against the walls, coughing and shivering, too weak to crawl into their own rooms. A running stream of waste, like an open sewer, flows on a porous carpet; when windows are too rusted to open, many resort to tossing buckets of excrement out from their doors. Weeks ago, or what seems like years ago, I would have gagged at this sight. Not anymore. That’s what the Choates has done to me. I have applied several times already for refugee status in McLaughlin, but Residential Affairs has turned me away each time, having enacted strict quotas on how many of us they will take in.

For many of its inhabitants, especially the diverse array of flora and fauna, the Choates is a self-contained ecosystem. An elaborate barter system centered on laundry tokens, singular Advil’s, and shot glasses filled with antiseptic has developed. Many find their needs for food, drink, and entertainment sated by the lively black market that dominates the lowest levels of the BisCoh common room. The kingpins of the Choates, rich in detergent and over-the-counter cold remedies, dominate these haphazard economies; meanwhile, runners, chosen by lot, venture out to siphon clean water from bathrooms in Kemeny Hall and the Haldeman Center.

My hellish existence means only one thing. Dartmouth needs to focus on providing quality housing for all of its students before it devotes resources and time to expanding its enrollment. With many freshmen languishing in the conditions of the Choates, the College must simply prioritize improving quality of life for its current students over increasing the general number of students. Every Dartmouth freshman should be entitled to livable housing that doesn’t threaten academic performance by causing a number of sick days.

 

We urgently await any help you can send.

Scrod Herringford

 

Our troubles are numerous and they explain the folly of expanding Dartmouth: that our administration is incapable of taking care of the students already enrolled, and that the administration will only overwhelm itself by taking more students. More laughable than our dramatic situations is the fact that of all the administrations, it is the one most incompetent that will attempt the most challenging undertakings. We all know what Hanlon’s investigatory committee will find: that expanding the student body will be incredibly challenging, severely inconvenient and exorbitantly expensive, but not impossible. The plan will yield no benefit for the students already here, but it will augment President Hanlon’s legacy if carried out, so Hanlon will look for any justification he can to proceed. Indeed we come to appreciate that the best presidents are the ones that do the least. Operating under self-restraint, they keep things simple and stick to the basics, making sure the College runs smoothly and that the students and faculty feel taken care of. Taking more students might make sense under any other more competent administration, but then again, only an administration as inept as Hanlon’s would ever suggest expanding the student body in the midst of a housing shortage.