Improve Dartmouth

founders of the Improve Dartmouth project, Esteban Castano ’14 and Gillian O’Connell ’15 (Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth News)

founders of the Improve Dartmouth project, Esteban Castano ’14 and Gillian O’Connell ’15 (Photograph courtesy of Dartmouth News)

Dartmouth is overall a fantastic place. It’s ranked number 11 on the US News list of top colleges in the United States. The professors are committed to undergraduate education. The community is tightknit and the students are committed to learning.

That being said, like anything, Dartmouth has its flaws. These flaws are not the fault of any person or organization in particular, but they hurt students every day. Hopefully, if students engage in collective action and make persuasive arguments to the administration about the benefits of change, we can improve this campus. The Improve Dartmouth organization is a fantastic initiative that dedicates itself to hearing the concerns of students and working hard to make sure they are heard and somehow enacted. To start the conversation of change, here are a few issues I’ve noticed in Dartmouth’s dining facilities.

The Hop line is always too long. This term, Dartmouth Dining Services (DDS) installed a TV system where students could voice their concerns through text messages. One student a week gets $25 in DBA just for participating, and students’ concerns are responded to and posted on televisions in both the Courtyard Cafe (Hop) and the Class of 1953 Commons (Foco). The system seemed revolutionary at first — a break from the perpetual bureaucracy that is Dartmouth Dining Services. However, everytime I look at the screen, I see a genuine concern matched with a sarcastic or joking response by the moderator of the system.. This is cringeworthy. The whole system probably cost upward of $1,000. Every response is about how something will be looked into or how lines will be fixed in the “future” by hiring new employees. The money could have been used to fix the issues of inefficiency faced by the Hop, yet instead all students received was a string of sarcastic and joking remarks coupled with unfulfilled promises by a DDS moderator.

Furthermore, though not the fault of any DDS workers, Collis is constantly crowded. During rush periods, stir fry lines can go beyond the cash register and even wrap around the room into the outdoor area where the stairs are. Smoothie lines are typically never shorter than 10 or 15 minutes during rush periods. Collis seems to be meant as a quicker alternative to Foco. Yet unfortunately eating at Collis at convenient times is typically a long and enduring process.

Foco is arguably the most consistent, dependable eating option on campus, though it faces a string of challenges of its own. Lines during peak dining times can be long at WorldView — one of the few stations that changes its options on a regular basis. Furthermore, WorldView faces challenges in terms of providing options for students with allergies. Some weeks are fantastic and have a variety of options. However, some weeks have no options for a student with a certain type of food allergy.

Though the cooks are very considerate and often take time to make items not on the menu to accommodate allergies, the senior staff should consider having options for students with dietary restrictions at WorldView every week.

Novack Cafe is a great place to eat. It is open until two in the morning, and is a favorite among those who frequent the Baker-Berry Library late at night. It has fresh bagels and a variety of sandwich options. However, its hours often vary from those posted. I have gone there well before closing time on some occasions to find that it has closed early.

Improve Dartmouth is a fantastic, tried-and-true organization on Dartmouth’s campus that is dedicated to raising issues like those I’ve highlighted and fixing them once and for all. They operate a website, www.improvedartmouth.com, that serves as a platform for students to voice their concerns. Their official mission statement, taken from their website, states:

Improve Dartmouth is more than just a website. We seek to drive positive change every day, in every corner of our school. We allow all community members to share and vote on ideas on how to make campus a better place. Then, we work closely with the administration to implement the best ideas. We hope you’ll add your voice to the conversation!

The concerns can range by category from dining to facilities to technology to academics. In true democratic fashion, there is a voting system on the website that serves to prioritize issues. This way, if someone raises a concern shared by many others, they can upvote it and the issue will get more priority by the Improve Dartmouth team, but fewer upvotes (or more downvotes) will keep the issue low on Improve Dartmouth’s priority list. I will provide a few examples of student concerns listed on the Improve Dartmouth website.

One student, Meredith Holmes, who received 18 upvotes, suggested WiFi should be extended to the Green. The issue is likely not too hard to fix. The school would probably need to buy a few more routers and some protection should the routers need to be placed outside. It would be a low cost for an immensely high reward in student satisfaction. Holmes’ post on the Improve Dartmouth website states: “I would love to do work on the green, but there is basically no wifi!”

Another student, Pritika Vig, who received 12 votes, suggested that either printer allowance be increased or professors’ printing demands be decreased to comply with low allowance. This concern has an easy solution: the administration can either talk with professors in the unlikely case that printing costs are of any real concern or raise students’ printing allowance, which likely costs very little to do. Below is her post on Improve Dartmouth’s website:

The current printing allowance ($20) only lets you print 235 pages (double sided). This is just not enough. For example, assigned just for one lesson today my prof assigned 130 pages of reading on canvas and got mad when I read them online and didn’t print them for class. Either make profs be more flexible with using laptops during discussion sessions or give more money for printing.

A third student, Kniya De’ De’, received 9 upvotes for suggesting Dartmouth add more study spaces. This would be an easy fix as we already have classrooms available, yet they are simply closed for the most part during night time study hours. Especially during finals, it can be extremely frustrating to not be able to find a place to sit down and silently get work done.

A fourth student, Xinhao Lei, got 9 upvotes for suggesting Dartmouth fix the saunas in the Zimmerman Alumni Gym which have been broken for a year and a half. Below is the post:

The sauna in the Zimmerman gym has been broken for half a year now. Can we work to get it fixed?

The beauty of Improve Dartmouth is that it really gets things done. It represents the power of a collective of ordinary students tackling minor issues that would otherwise not get the attention they truly deserve. According to a mass email they sent on April 30th, they have direct contacts with top administration staff. Also, according to Improve Dartmouth’s email it has enacted over thirty student-imagined ideas since its inception. Attached to its website is a list of issues it has successfully addressed with the administration. These resolutions are major, and students should not take them for granted. We as students depend on them every day and thrive off of them.

For example, most everyone depends on the Berry library’s charger rental system. For those nights where your computer is running low on battery, the rental system is essential.

Another example is rollover DBA. Everyone has guests at Dartmouth at times, and everyone knows how DBA-heavy guests can be. One of DDS’s signature rules is that only one meal swipe can be used per meal period, and so for Dartmouth students to bring their guests to Foco dinner, they must bear the $14 cost of entrance. Rollover DDS is a perfect solution because it lets students choose to use a lot of DBA during some terms and not as much during other terms.

Again, we should not take Improve Dartmouth’s initiatives for granted. They are all the result of hard work behind the scenes and relentless dealings with the administration. Rather, instead of complaining about that long Hop line every day or how long it takes to get a measly smoothie at the Collis Cafe, we as students should voice our concerns. These small issues will not be fixed by finger-pointing and complaining, but only through collective action and bargaining with those in charge of making decisions. The more people who step up and contribute to fixing minor issues on campus, the less inconveniences we will face on a day-to-day basis. How wonderful Dartmouth would be with reasonable Hop lines, a thousand-dollar television expenditure taken seriously, a larger Collis Cafe, and food for everyone at Foco’s WorldView!