As one of the Baxter Fellows of Tyler House this year, I have become quite familiar with the process of dealing with damages in the housing system. Tyler House and Tyler Annex have managed to garner a reputation as wild party dormitories, where people get belligerent and break things. The current protocol in place when significant damage occurs is that Campus Safety and Security will conduct an investigation. If this investigation does not yield an individual or group responsible, then the residents of the house absorb the bill. This current policy frequently punishes the wrong people and creates financial hardship.
Tyler’s relative isolation and distance from the rest of campus may be one of the underlying reasons for the problems it faces. Its location creates a perception of Tyler as a sort of free-for-all pseudo-frat where anything goes. Take as an example the damages that occurred at a party during Winter Study. Students from all parts of campus were in attendance at this event. The end result of this party was broken lights, a decimated bathroom, bio-cleanups and other various damages. Those responsible could be from anywhere on campus, and they probably constitute a very small minority of those who attended the event. Still, if someone does not come forward, the residents of the house will have the bill evenly distributed among them.
One could make the argument that when residents pick in to Tyler or Tyler Annex, they are aware of this reputation and shouldn’t complain about the extra damage bill tacked on at the end of each semester. The issue with this logic is that many residents with bad pick numbers do not have a choice. Tyler Annex is generally the last house to fill up, so rising sophomores, who may strongly desire to live elsewhere, are given little choice. Some of these residents become disgruntled and after repeated visits to Campus Life are able to get a neighborhood change. This is one of the reasons why the residency of Tyler House is approximately 90 percent male. The neighborhood system is undermined by financial incentives for students to leave Dodd Neighborhood sophomore year if they have bad pick numbers.
This damage bill would affect students on significant amounts of financial aid. Hypothetically, let’s say that the damage bill was $300 a person for Tyler House or Tyler Annex. Relative to Williams’ full tuition of approximately $50,000, this is not significant, but if someone is paying a far reduced tuition, then this same bill can mean a lot more. When I voiced this concern earlier in the year, Campus Life and the Dean’s Office’s answer was that these students could get a work study if the damage bill was creating a financial hardship. Perhaps it’s just me, but the concept of a student working a job to pay off the damages perpetrated by some other inconsiderate person is wrong.
It’s very easy to identify a problem; the difficult part is coming up with alternate solutions. There is no easy answer, but the current policy is unacceptable. I understand it is designed to pressure residents to actively prevent damages from occurring and possibly give up whoever caused the damages. Yet, since we enjoy unrestricted access, the burden of damages should fall on all students. Anyone can be responsible for damages in any dorm. We all have card access. If the College wants to charge students for unresolved damages, then the bill should be divided evenly among all Williams students.
I have presented a temporary band-aid and not a long-term solution to this problem. Reversing the reputation of the Tylers is not a matter of redistributing damage charges and is an issue that cannot be solved overnight. It will take the coordinated efforts of the Dodd Governance Board, Campus Life, the Dean’s Office and the students themselves to help eliminate this reputation for excessive damage. Meanwhile, campus administrators should consider who ends up paying for the actions of the few. Unlucky sophomores should not be forced to bear the brunt of these damages when no culprit is found. Also, a college that is so invested in its financial aid program should understand the burden that these charges can create. Ideally, a new way to deter damages will be implemented, one that does not result in innocent students paying out of pocket. As it stands, these fines are not enough to deter the damages from occurring but are enough to cause serious concern to the students stuck with them.
Zach Padovani ’11 is from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He lives in Tyler.