DormCon confronts imminent New House closure

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Vice President for Student Life Suzy Nelson have asked DormCon to begin looking into how to re-house New House residents who will be displaced when that dorm closes for renovations at the end of this academic year.

DormCon President Kate Farris ’17 and Vice President Yuge Ji ’18 emphasized that Barnhart and Nelson would be making final decisions, and that it will not be DormCon’s role to sit down and design the solution. Rather, it will be DormCon’s role to advise on the different tradeoffs that the administrators will consider and to weigh in on the process that the administrators will follow as they reach their decisions.

Farris said that the administrators are considering a variety of options, including housing students in undergraduate dormitories, the graduate dormitory Tang Hall, and willing FSILGs.

In response to The Tech’s inquiry about potentially distributing New House residents across undergraduate dorms, Barnhart said last Sunday that “no decisions about next steps have been or will be made” until engaging with all New House residents and Heads of House.

DormCon members discussed the likely prospect of New House residents moving to other undergraduate dorms, at times as if it were a certainty.

“We are essentially going to be... guests in your dorms for the next two years,” New House President Sarah Wharton ’17 said at Thursday’s DormCon meeting, interrupting herself mid-sentence to discuss whether to qualify the statement with a “possibly.” The consensus was that the qualification was not needed.  

DormCon members brainstormed some of the difficulties of housing New House residents in other dorms. Without plans to reduce next year’s freshman class size, whether everyone would fit remains a major concern.

Farris said that administrators probably won’t be able to provide concrete capacities for each dorm until mid-October at the earliest. She said that they will take a variety of factors into account when calculating the capacity, particularly that rooms should offer at least 90 square feet per roommate.

Wharton said that a survey will go out to New House residents today to find out how many students feel strongly about remaining with their living group within New House, and whether they have specific ideas about where they would like their living group to relocate.

Keeping living groups together is likely to be one of the tradeoffs that DormCon advises administrators to consider.

Senior House President Sarah Melvin ’18 advised the rest of DormCon to consider the “long-term effects” of accepting students into their dorms and how that can have consequences for dorm culture.

“We are still dealing with the aftermath” of accepting “a large quantity of Bexley,” she said. She explained that Senior House had cleared a whole hallway for the displaced students, but said that when they graduated and moved out, the rooms were empty and were filled with freshmen.

“That’s still a hallway not really integrated with the rest of the house,” she said.

Wharton confirmed at the meeting that it remains very much on her mind whether New House will remain a tier 2 dormitory or if residents will face a rent hike when they return to a renovated dormitory.

She also expressed concern that residents, accustomed to living in a cook-for-yourself dormitory, would face hardship if they were forced to purchase a meal plan they may not want or may not be able to afford.

DormCon members hinted that the rehousing may have significant consequences for the distribution of incoming freshmen: if McCormick Hall is to remain female-only while still doing its part to take on additional residents, it likely won’t be by taking on current New House residents accustomed to a co-ed living environment. Instead, it will be additional freshmen that will live there.