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Choking in the Choates

An underclassman reports on living conditions in one of the College’s worst set of dorms:


The “Freshman Fifteen” took on a different meaning for me and for many classmates who lived in the Choates cluster last year: the fifteen or so classes per term each of us missed due to illness.

Everyone’s immune system is tested during the first year of college. Students probe the limits of their newfound freedom away from home; often they allow their rooms to lapse into sanitary disasters. Whereas before Mom was there to make you tidy up, now nothing will force you to rid your room of empty pizza boxes and piles of dirty laundry — except your own mounting despair. In addition, the sheer amount of human contact freshmen experience virtually guarantees that any virus will spread wildly.

More than any other residential cluster, however, the Choates are a den for “the plague,” as many students call it. Anyone who has spent time there will instantly recognize the mildewy, stale smell of the hallways and the general stench of the rooms. Thin, porous carpeting covers concrete floors, meaning that food, beer and anything that ends up on the floor cannot be wiped up effectively, thereby remaining to fester forever under residents’ feet. Three former Choates residents I spoke to agreed that they had been sick for more days in their first year at Dartmouth than through their four years in high school. They are convinced that the Choates have a serious problem with mold and rot.

My radiator stopped working one time my freshman year, but when I saw the FO&M repairman take it apart, I wished I’d just let it stay cold. Its insides had dark streaks of scummy mold. Everyday pathogens are being heated and dispensed to maintain that signature Choates smell. The custodians that I dealt with were the epitome of professionalism and helpfulness. They do a fantastic job keeping the buildings as superficially clean as they can. However, no amount of custodial energy could rid the cluster of the general dirtiness that has soaked into the cheaply constructed 1958 buildings.

Last year, as the Choates approached their 55th birthday, Dartmouth spent over $42 million renovating the Hanover Inn. Instead of using money to improve undergraduate living conditions by turning the Choates into a more aesthetically appealing, less cramped, and, especially, more sanitary housing option, Jim Kim chose to spend a fortune on a project with zero benefit to the students he was supposed to serve.

Dartmouth has a responsibility to its students not only to provide them with excellent courses, but also to give them an environment conducive to learning. The College clearly fails at that mission when students miss numerous classes due to mold-induced illnesses. I sincerely hope Phil Hanlon will address the unsanitary conditions in the Choates, and finally let students focus on their work instead of wasting time caring for themselves and their sickened classmates.

Addendum: Jon Miller ‘15 added similar thoughts in a recent column in The D:

Health-wise, such cramped, crowded quarters cannot possibly be conducive to good health, a statement supported by my personal observation of entire floors getting sick with one bug or another. Year after year, clever freshmen maneuver their way out of a less-than-satisfactory living situation in the River or Choates cluster by presenting the College with a doctor’s note stating that they are highly sensitive to mold and mildew and should not be exposed to it. Each time the College acknowledges the legitimacy of such notes and relocates these students to new rooms, it effectively admits to having significant and potentially dangerous mold or mildew problems in its older freshmen residential halls.

Joe Asch notes: The Choates, along with the River Cluster, were considered to be the College’s least desirable dorms in the 1970’s, too. They should be replaced.


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