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Beechert: Freshmen, Bring a Mask

The room in the following image is home either to a Dartmouth freshman living in the Choates/River Cluster or to a convicted criminal deemed worthy of maximum-security incarceration. Who do you think the lucky person is?

norwayprison (525x347).jpg

Unless you have experienced the pleasure of stepping inside the Choates or the River Cluster (or just know what to expect from this blog), you’re wrong. The above picture is a cell in Norway’s Halden Prison, which houses murderers, rapists, and sex offenders. The residents of Dartmouth’s two infamous sets of dorms, on the other hand, would vastly improve their quality of life by moving to Scandinavia and committing felonies.

A recent Verbum Ultimum from The D (Housing Not Houses) elaborates on exactly how poor the quality of accommodation is for a not-insignificant number of freshmen every year. The reality of first-year living in the Choates and the River Clusters is, as The D points out, made even less palatable by the administration’s decision to prioritize the establishment of the so-called “house communities” in order to address concerns about the campus housing system:

…the massive focus on and expenditure involved in implementing some parts of the new house system seems ridiculous when the housing system itself is in such dire need of repair….


Instead of focusing on creating cohesive bonds tied to dull house names and colors, perhaps the administration should focus on the fact that a large part of our first-year population has to live in buildings that are widely considered to be sub-standard. Anyone who lives in or has visited the Choates or the River Cluster could tell you that they aren’t quite representative of the ideal of the College on the Hill. From plumbing to heating issues to literal black mold, these buildings simply do not meet the standards that a Dartmouth student should expect. The administration has consistently denied that the levels of black mold in the River are dangerous; but it is also widely known that a freshman hoping to avoid the River could do so by obtaining a doctor’s note saying they are allergic to mold.

I don’t know about you, but no two words in the English language make me feel more at home than “black mold.” And, as an alumnus who lived in the River Cluster reported to me, the pitiful physical condition of the dorms does not do much to foster “cohesive bonds”:

…the most frustrating part about living in the River Cluster was the knowledge that you were paying the same housing costs as everyone else on campus for the least desirable location on campus and arguably the worst quality living space….


Whenever a friend from McLaughlin would come visit me in the River, it always felt like a voluntourism trip — they would offer me some pity, spend a small amount of time in my room, and then go back to their much nicer dorm with a newfound appreciation for how lucky they were.

Why Phil Hanlon thinks that slapping the label “house” on decrepit buildings is going to bring the Dartmouth community closer together (or help those allergic to mold) is unclear. Then again, so is most of the Hanlon administration’s decision-making. Par for the course, I suppose.

Addendum: Dartblog would like to do a photomontage of the famous black mold present in the River Cluster. Anyone willing to take one of our staff photographers on a “mold tour” will win a lifetime subscription to this site. Please drop us a note if you can help out.

Addendum: An alumnus writes in:

The Wigwam dormitories (aka the River Cluster) were considered undesirable even if newer, and a long walk away, when we were freshmen in 1963. Rumor was that they were built in anticipation of coeducation to serve as safe, remote housing. There were no segregated freshman dorms then — as I recall the College was quite proud of that distinction — and it seemed that sophomores were routinely assigned, or perhaps relegated, to the Wigs if they couldn’t abide their roommates.

Joe Asch Addendum: When I was a freshman, the River Cluster dorms were routinely called “the Wigs,” but I never knew why — until today.

Addendum: Another alumnus writes in:

Thank you for your continuing criticism of these awful dorms. Being trapped in the Choates for my first three years at Dartmouth left a serious and permanent bad taste in my mouth for the whole institution. I always thought of it in prison terms at the time, and visiting friends in better dorms was humbling. The only consolation was that it was better than the River Cluster where my friend and Saturday Night Live alum Rachel Dratch got stuck.

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