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Husted '13: Room and board: A part of the college experience

In a recent Herald opinion column (“Fuerbacher ’14: Room and board: You don’t get what you pay for,” Feb. 20), Elizabeth Fuerbacher ’14 questions the necessity of forcing students to live in dorms and pay for Brown dining. Specifically, she calls dorms and dining plans “overpriced propaganda that should not be mandatory components of students’ budgets.”

If you take the actual food and living arrangements at face value, then Fuerbacher is absolutely correct. You certainly get more value for your dollar by moving off campus. In addition, real savings come from investing time and energy into your own cooking. Yet, I shudder to imagine the comfort-centric world that Fuerbacher speaks of. Do dorms and campus dining really have no intrinsic value other than their immediate roles in sheltering and nourishing us?

A better way to understand these amenities is by looking at their educational or community-building roles. Dorms provide an invaluable learning experience, helping young adults step out of their comfort zones while fostering a vibrant sense of community through mutual experience and proximity. Dining halls, like dorms, are indispensable. They are tools that help students ease into the stresses of college life. In addition, they provide one of the only communal spaces where scattered underclassmen can gather with one another.

The sights, sounds and presence of classmates in dorms constantly surround inhabitants at all times of the day, and this is both a blessing and a curse. Brown hurls first-years into an exciting world with seemingly endless distractions. So dorm life teaches you — the hard way — to budget your time or fail. Learning to separate work from play is arguably the hardest part of college — and one that has serious real-world applicability.

Dorms also give you a crash course in compromise, sharing and respect. They facilitate friendships, but more importantly, they force you to deal with diversity directly — diversity of idea, attitude, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation. You will never live this close to so many disparate people in your life. If you aren’t taking advantage of that learning experience, honing social skills and overcoming prejudice, then you aren’t taking full advantage of college.

What Fuerbacher fails to realize is that learning is just as much about the students you meet as the classes you take. The extent of this interaction makes all the difference in the world, so having dorm fees mandated in tuition isn’t “propaganda,” it is part of the experience. I am glad to go to a school where even celebrities are given roommates and placed into first-year dorms. Brown, like other schools, puts great value on being a residential university. Forcing an intellectual and diverse student body into close quarters is part of Brown’s appeal regardless of ulterior motives on the University’s part to make money.

How does dining fit into all of this? Perhaps students could enjoy the finer aspects of living in cesspools without having to eat cardboard for breakfast, too. Unfortunately for your stomachs, I would argue that dining halls are just as important to creating a truly wonderful Brown experience. Though the hamburgers at the Sharpe Refectory literally have patties thinner than a sheet of paper, metaphorically, they are thick, medium-rare quarter-pounders that roll juice down your fingers as you bite in.

For the Ratty is a meeting ground — a place where first-years in New Pembroke #3 meet those in Perkins for lunch, a place to go after class, a place where three quarters of the school’s students are forced to interact with each other. There are few times at Brown when students congregate — sober — in such numbers. This experience is more valuable than the food on the table. Furthermore, first-years arrive to college and have a completely new schedule, group of friends and list of responsibilities. Giving them something stable — three square meals a day cooked for them — is a way to integrate them slowly into a college lifestyle.

Exchange and community-building aside, Fuerbacher fails to realize that allowing students to opt out will simply raise the cost of living and dining for the rest of the student body, making forced dining and living plans an effective cost-pooling tool. And yes, though not offered at a fair market value, as one anonymous commenter on Fuerbacher’s article points out, “What you cannot put a price on is community. I for one am thankful that the University requires all freshmen to be on meal plan and on campus. These provide an equalizer — no matter what socioeconomic background you come from, we go home to the same dorms and eat the same food.”

All this said, dorms and Brown dining have their time and place. Absolutely all juniors and seniors who feel they can live on their own should be given the permission. Learning to pay your bills while cooking for yourself and balancing a full schedule is an incredibly valuable experience I encourage all students to seek in their final years here. But while you are an underclassman, take the time to immerse yourself in the traditional college lifestyle and be thankful that Brown is not a commuter campus. It is worth the price you pay and more.

 

Lucas Husted ’13 now unclogs his own toilet but is glad someone else did it for him for three years. He can be reached at lucas_husted@brown.edu

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