Revisiting LLCs

McLaughlin cluster, where the Global Village has been established

McLaughlin cluster, where the Global Village has been established

Although the current fall and most recent summer terms have been marked by remarkable calm in terms of campus goings-on, one gets the unshakeable sense that we’re merely in a fortunate lull between major controversies of the sort that have ceaselessly rankled the College since shortly before Dr. Philip J. Hanlon ‘77 assumed the presidency. The Trustees and faculty members on the Presidential Search Committee formed in 2012 to fill the vacancy left by Jim Yong Kim’s early exit seemed more than aware that a few emerging crises might have an outsized role in setting the tone of student life and defining Dartmouth’s reputation.

In this light, Hanlon’s selection was unlike that of many other university presidents, who are increasingly job-hopping administrators sought for their fundraising networks and general managerial competence. Hanlon, a son of Dartmouth (and a fraternity member while here) and a career academic, was tapped to use his knowledge of the College’s cultural foibles and decades of student interaction to help Dartmouth forge a peaceable path forward. But more than a full year into his presidency, Hanlon’s response to the issues he was called to tackle is still developing; he has released statements and speeches hinting at his vision and convened a Presidential Steering Committee to guide him toward concrete reforms, but until the Moving Dartmouth Forward proposals are sent up to the trustees for approval, the picture of Hanlon’s performance as president will be composed of many significant and often overlooked initiatives already in place. Administrative projects like expanding student Living Learning Communities (LLCs) and reshaping the housing cluster system will eventually take their place in a grand reform of student life, for better or for worse, but each nonetheless deserves consideration in its own right.

Dartmouth’s Living Learning Communities, areas within College administered residences dedicated to a particular theme or topic of study, have existed for years in many disjointed forms such as ethnic and language affinity houses and gender-neutral floors. But under President Hanlon’s direction LLCs have been brought into a unified organization, expanded in participation, and broadened in the scope of themes. The three largest of the new programs are the Triangle House, a brand new twenty-seven-bed house that fosters student exploration of LGBT issues, the Global Village — a collection of floors throughout the McLaughlin residential cluster designed to encourage student immersion in international cultures — and DEN in Residence, a group of twenty-six students building business and design skills in affiliation with the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, located on the top floor of New Hampshire Hall.

As a response to years of clamor on campus for more community within dorms, the idea for these three large-scale themed residences seems a great victory for the administration. “If there’s a critical mass of students with similar interests we can tie together resources and knowledge from all the related campus groups in that field and also get ‘accelerated serendipity’ among students,” said Katharina Daub, Assistant Director of the Living Learning program, describing a vision of fruitful encounters between like-minded students. But the error here comes in the implementation; much of the grand vision is chipped away between organizational issues and diminishing student passion. “It’s sad to hear that some students take a cynical approach,” Ms. Daub continued in reaction to the mention of students slated for poor housing assignments using the LLCs as a way to secure cushy dorms for their friend groups, and of poor attendance at themed meetings and events. “Through our evaluative processes we’ll see over time what parts of the program are succeeding less,” she offered optimistically, but there are reasons for doubt. The LLCs are not the College’s first attempt at creating an educational social atmosphere; Hanlon’s push toward Living Learning echoes former President James O. Freedman’s transformation of the East Wheelock housing cluster into a community for student-faculty dialogue in 1996. While Freedman waxed poetic about “making Dartmouth a hospitable environment for the creative loner and daring dreamer” the redesigned cluster at the center of his vision contains only a few traces of his original academic idealism, which are lamely mocked if not ignored by East Wheelock’s own residents.