Hannah Silverstein: At Dartmouth, a new system for residential life

Dartmouth College is restructuring its residential life, building a new system of clusters of residence halls that recalls Harvard's "house system'' and Yale's "college system'' but with unique characteristics of its own.

By HANNAH SILVERSTEIN, for Dartmouth Now

The house communities—a cornerstone of the Moving Dartmouth Forward plan announced by President Phil Hanlon ’77 in January—are designed to transform Dartmouth’s undergraduate residential experience, bringing more continuity to students’ on-campus living options and greater opportunity for faculty-student interactions beyond the classroom. The houses will open to students in fall 2016.

“We will fundamentally transform residential life at Dartmouth. We envision a campus that is more inclusive, where faculty and grad students play more influential roles in the lives of undergraduates, where students learn and grow outside the classroom, and where we have more options for social life and community interaction. Our new housing plan addresses each of these important needs, and today I am pleased to report that we are aggressively moving forward to implement it.”

—President Phil Hanlon ’77, Moving Dartmouth Forward speech, January 29, 2015

The six house professors include biologist Ryan Calsbeek, astrophysicist Ryan Hickox, engineer Jane Hill, sociologist Kathryn Lively, mathematician Craig Sutton, and Japanese literary scholar Dennis Washburn.

“What’s striking about the faculty who have stepped forward to lead this transition is how deeply they care about students,” says Provost Carolyn Dever. “They have each consistently demonstrated that dedication in and out of the classroom, as both role models and mentors. They represent Dartmouth’s scholar-teacher model at its finest.”

The house professors will each serve a four-year term beginning July 1, 2015, and will move into on-campus residences near their respective house communities the following summer. Associate Professor of Mathematics Sergi Elizalde, who has served as faculty director of the East Wheelock Cluster since May 2014, will continue in his role.

Students will be affiliated with a specific residential community, including the East Wheelock Cluster, and will retain this house affiliation throughout their undergraduate experience, regardless of whether they are on- or off-campus in any given term or choose to live in other accommodations.

Interim Dean of the College Inge-Lise Ameer says the house professors will work with students to help the communities define their identities and develop such activities as community meals, intramural competitions, performances, field trips, and experiential learning and leadership-development opportunities.

“Our model will be distinctly Dartmouth,” Ameer says. “We are engaged in an intensive planning process to ensure that the system meets the evolving needs of our students, both as learners and as members of a community that should really feel like home.”

The house professors will be instrumental in planning the new system in the coming year, along with a student advisory committee, the provost, the vice provost for student affairs, the to-be-appointed dean of the College, other members of the faculty, and student affairs staff.

Mike Wooten, director of residential education, says the house system will help integrate residential life more deeply with the intellectual mission of the College. “It’s really about increasing students’ sense of connection with the place where they spend four years of their lives,” he says.

The house professors were chosen from nearly two-dozen applicants, says Jon Kull, the Rodgers Professor of Chemistry and dean of graduate studies, who served on the selection committee. “We had the wonderful problem of choosing from among a pool of deeply committed and enthusiastic faculty,” he says.