The University has been planning a new residence hall since 2007, and administrators told The Herald this week that they plan to move forward with construction sometime in the next five years. Residential life at Brown is in great need of attention, and we are happy that the University has made housing a priority. But we're not sure a new residence hall is the best way to address Brown's housing woes.
There is no question that the University's existing dormitories need work. Common space is utterly lacking, especially in the riot-proof Graduate Center buildings. In other dorms, lounges and kitchens are converted to student rooms each year because of housing shortages. The Plan for Academic Enrichment acknowledges this, recommending that the University create "more and better community spaces" in residence halls for academic programs, social gatherings and recreation. But the Plan also recommends that the University increase the percentage of students living on campus, and that's where the University has focused its housing policy.
The new dorm in the works would create 300 to 400 new apartment-style rooms for upperclassmen, with the goal of luring more seniors into on-campus housing. Administrators say having more seniors on campus would strengthen the Brown community, giving underclassmen an opportunity to talk to older students and seek advice. They also cite complaints from neighbors and concerns about student safety in off-campus houses.
All this is great, and at some point it will make sense for the University to build more housing for upperclassmen. But before going after seniors, Brown should focus its attention on improving the underclassman residential experience.
Dorms are the center of the freshman experience at Brown, and if designed appropriately, they could strengthen communities and facilitate friendships at a critical time. The freshman unit system is a laudable attempt to bring students together during their first year at Brown. But even inside units, it can be hard to meet people and make friends in the absence of common rooms and lounges.
Though dorms in Keeney Quandrangle have a few lounges scattered throughout, other buildings have almost no common space. Emery, Woolley, Morris and Champlin halls, for example, all share one large lounge that's located far from student rooms. Freshmen are forced to retreat into their doubles to socialize with their hallmates, making units less communal and making it harder to meet people.
Freshmen and sophomores will surely benefit from having more seniors on campus. But they will gain much more from lounges and common spaces in their own dorms than they will from living near a residence hall full of seniors. Underclassmen already mingle with juniors and seniors all the time in classes and extracurricular activities. They also receive support from their Meiklejohn advisers. The problem with Brown's housing is not that it creates rifts between on-campus and off-campus, or between Keeney and New Pembroke. The problem is that the lack of common space creates rifts between students inside each dorm.
Rather than building a new residential hall for seniors, the University should renovate existing dorms and improve the residential experience for the students who depend on it most for friendship and community. Before we solidify the University community as a whole, we should make sure our residence halls promote smaller, more intimate communities for the freshmen and sophomores who are still finding their place at Brown.
Editorials are written by The Herald's editorial page board. Send comments to editorials(at)browndailyherald.com.