Our dorms have the structural integrity of a Nature Valley granola bar

Huijun Huang

One of the best parts of a residential college is living among your peers, building relationships, and fostering inclusivity. As a top-ranked residential college nestled in the Purple Valley, the College has some of the most beautiful buildings in the nation — including the new science center worth $204 million. Prefrosh gaze at Frosh Quad with starry eyes, in awe of the string lights hanging from every window under the pink and purple sunset. Others appreciate the new lounges in the Mission dorm with a variety of seating options. Behind the facade of these aesthetically-pleasing communal spaces lie dorms with peeling paint, moldy windows, holes in floors, and pests crawling through crevices. In some cases, the bathrooms still have the pre-1970 razor blade disposal slots. Talk about the charms of living in an older home. The College should listen to housing complaints and renovate older dorms that no longer serve their purposes.

As someone who has lived in Sage, Carter, Bryant, and Hubbell, I’ve experienced some of the worst dorm conditions. My window in Sage never closed properly, the manual thermostat in Carter and Bryant never worked, and don’t even get me started on Hubbell. How can anyone feel safe when their windows don’t close properly? How can anyone feel hygienic when pests are crawling out of the crevices? How can anyone practice self-care when even the lightest footsteps sound like an earthquake? Most importantly, how can we justify the millions of dollars of investment in academic buildings but not students’ basic living conditions? Try attending an 8 a.m. class after losing sleep over the window that keeps flapping open in the wind. The reality is that our dorms need major renovations. 

Housing quality is key to achieving better mental health. Given the mental health issues on campus, the last thing we need to worry about is a place to call home. Existing research shows that the physical environment plays a large role in symptoms of depression and anxiety. Poor housing quality — which encompasses air quality, home safety, space per individual, and the presence of mold — results in various negative health outcomes. For a student returning from a new academic building like Hopper Science Center to a dilapidated dorm, this shock forces us to reckon with the College’s priorities.

A high quality dorm means greater opportunity to build long-term relationships and memories that would last a lifetime. We want to remember the College as the place where we called home for four years of our lives. We want to remember the College as the place where we spent all night hanging out with friends. We want to remember the College as the place where connections in the classrooms were reinforced by residential life. How can I remember the College the way I want to remember when I can’t even get a decent night of sleep? How can anyone remember the College in good light when they were uncomfortable in their own living space? Alumni Fund — don’t you care about student experiences?

If better mental health and student experiences don’t sway you, let’s talk about the College’s commitment to sustainability. Dorms should be renovated to maximize efficiency. Instead of arguing about what offsets to purchase or investments to abandon, perhaps we should start with spaces where students spend the most of their time. Think water-conserving showerheads, natural light, timed lights, low-flush toilets, insulated windows, and programmable thermostats. Why aren’t we talking more about the low-hanging fruits?

Some may argue that we should keep these dorms in their original conditions because they have historical value and are integral to alums’ college experiences. While the idea of living in an older home sounds absolutely charming, these spaces benefit from renovations that improve basic living conditions. A fresh layer of paint and windows that close properly never hurt anyone. I’m not suggesting that we tear the building down and replace it with a $204 million residential complex — I’m simply asking for a room to feel safe in. My dorm should not have the structural integrity of a Nature Valley granola bar. 

Huijun Huang ’22 is a chemistry and environmental studies double major and public health concentrator from Castro Valley, Calif.