When I first moved into Graduate Center my senior year, I entered my room to find chunks of plaster falling off the dilapidated walls, several pieces of splintered, broken furniture lying around and rat poison in my closet. I had to place six separate facilities requests to resolve the problems, and just when I thought the situation was improving, I discovered a mouse in my room — not once, but twice. Later, I discovered the rodent issue was due to two gaping holes in the wall next to my radiator.
This entire episode stood in great contrast to my experience freshman year. Back then, the Metcalf floors sparkled as I walked into the brand new dorm, and the adjacent lounge boasted state-of-the-art-furniture and glass doors. There was no debris or broken furniture; everything was newly renovated.
My story is one of many upperclassmen whose housing situations seem to have only downgraded each year after entering the housing lottery. While the main freshman hubs, Keeney and Pembroke, have been renovated in the last five years, most upperclassmen housing has been left to deteriorate. Grad Center and New Dorm are becoming more and more unlivable, as rodent problems arise, furniture crumbles and plumbing begins to fail, but have received next to no attention. Young Orchard’s radiator issues and ant problems have also been pushed aside. In April, students in Grad Center found brown water coming out of their faucets, supposedly as a result of the city rerouting its water lines. This week, I received an email warning that the same brown water situation could happen again.
The issue takes on an even greater significance due to the lack of water filters in most upperclassmen dorms. Most first-year dorms have water stations on every floor, giving students access to quality water whenever they want it, but the same cannot be said of other dorms. Brown’s failure to provide clean water to all of its facilities has put its upperclassmen at risk of health problems and created an additional obstacle to staying hydrated. This begs the question: Why has Brown failed to supply clean water to a significant portion of campus, yet offer it to a few select dorms? And why has Brown focused so much of its resources on equipping first-year dorms with fancy lounges, modern furniture, new flooring and carpeting, communal televisions and, in the case of the Emery-Woolley Lounge, a foosball table, while neglecting to provide upperclassmen with new water filters?
This blatantly unequal distribution of resources has not always been an issue. Brown regularly changes its housing options for each class, and just five years ago, first-years weren’t sent to the palatial Miller or Metcalf, but instead to Perkins, one of the furthest and most notorious dorms on campus. In addition to being relatively isolated, Perkins has also been criticized for its carpets stained with bodily fluids, unclean water and leaky sinks. Realizing that Perkins was so unpopular, Brown redesignated it as a second-year dorm in 2012, and the housing designations have stayed more or less the same ever since.
This redesignating marked the beginning of Brown’s shift towards prioritizing first-year housing. Shortly after, Brown announced major renovation projects to Andrews, Miller, Metcalf and Keeney Quadrangle, amounting to a combined $46 million. According to former Senior Associate Dean of Residential Life Richard Bova, these renovations were classified as “gut renovations,” including brand-new mechanical systems in addition to new furniture, floors and plumbing. By contrast, upperclassmen dorms have continued to receive short shrift: In 2016, Brown allocated just $5 million dollars to help renovate Perkins and Barbour, another dorm for second- and third-years.
Intuitively, it would seem that Brown’s primary motivation for focusing on first-year housing at the expense of other facilities is to boost its retention rates, which are an important metric for college rankings and reputation. First-year students are less attached to the Unversity and more likely to transfer out if they have bad experiences, including with unaccomodating or deteriorating rooms. As such, the University has done its best to make these first-year havens as comfortable as possible. But this has put student well-being and safety at risk. Not only are the conditions of many upperclassmen dorms unpleasant, but they’re also unsafe.
This is in no way meant to criticize the facilities staff, who do a great job responding to the many requests they receive on a daily basis. But as Brown moves forward, it should consider taking the time to revamp older buildings, rather than relying on short-term fixes. These large-scale renovation projects are obviously costly and lengthy, but at a school with such high tuition, student safety and satisfaction should be a priority. Moreover, if Brown had been refurbishing these dorms incrementally, instead of letting them degenerate before our eyes, the administration wouldn’t have so much work to do now.
It is concerning that Brown would strategically place third- and fourth-year students, who can no longer ruin the retention rate, into some of the oldest, most unclean dorms on campus. After years of going to Brown, students who choose to stay on campus in their final years should not be punished with inferior housing simply because the University has no incentive to offer them exceptional accommodations.
When I look back on my final year at Brown, I won’t have fond memories of my housing situation. It might be too late for Brown to fix that for me, but it can work to address this for future graduates before their housing conditions deteriorate even further.
Samantha Savello ’18 is constantly on the lookout for the mouse in her room and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and other op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.