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The sorry state of Stanford dorms

As Stanford’s ResX task force has — at long last and with no lack of controversy — come to an end with the publication of a report of housing recommendations. Unfortunately, the ResX report didn’t address the fundamental problems facing Stanford housing.

I do think that some of the recommendations in the report make sense. Eliminating the Draw, which seems designed to maximize stress for students while masking the underlying housing shortages, inequities and insufficiencies that Stanford suffers from makes sense. Dividing the campus into roughly equal neighborhoods might make it easier for friends to stay together, although it seems inevitable that certain neighborhoods (those farther from the center of campus, or whichever neighborhood includes Crothers) are less desirable than others. It also doesn’t quite make sense to split up the Row — a geographically defined area — among neighborhoods. But these ideas might solidify social communities, especially in upper-class dorms, and reduce the stress students experience surrounding the housing process.

Yet Stanford seems unwilling to acknowledge the most urgent problems with student housing. The report’s executive summary addresses student communities, theme houses and student choice — but does not mention problems with the existing brick-and-mortar dorms. For starters, there’s not enough housing; more than one hundred students end up without housing at the end of the Draw.

Furthermore, Stanford, like most other peer institutions, remains committed to one-room doubles and two-room doubles for all of its students. ResX’s report recommends that all freshmen be housed in one-room-double dorms. Speaking from personal experience, that’s incredibly short-sighted. Living in one room with a complete stranger is a stressful, invasive experience. Calling this unnecessary unpleasantness a “rite of passage” or opportunity for character growth is silly. Students can become adults and experience personal growth without this, and forcing freshmen to live in a one-room double regardless of their mental and physical needs is unfair.

For those of us who end up with fundamentally incompatible roommates, the problem with one-room doubles is painfully clear. Stanford asks student RAs to pair students up, although the ResX process may change that. Those RAs are supposed to ensure that, for example, LGBTQ students don’t end up with intolerant roommates, but this process is not foolproof, and some LGBTQ students have been forced to live with homophobic peers. On a more mundane level, if your roommate struggles to adjust to college life, you’re expected to live with the effects of their struggles, which might include everything from extreme slobbiness to never leaving the room to taking their stress about college out on you, no matter the toll it takes on you. RAs, RFs and Residence Deans are often incredibly reluctant to move students out of their assigned rooms or to allow students to switch roommates, exacerbating this problem.

RAs, RFs and Residence Deans are often slow to recognize how serious the problem is and unwilling to “take sides” by admitting that someone has done something wrong or telling them to change their behavior. RAs are also dealing with their own problems, as a group of students wrote in The Daily earlier this year. RAs are supposed to be helping freshmen adjust and adjudicating conflicts, but the sheer amount of work they are doing and problems in their own life can seriously impact their ability to help. And going to Residence Deans comes with its own risk. (A Stanford Residence Dean was recently accused of discriminating against mentally ill students and ultimately left Stanford.) Too often, students whose roommates are prejudiced or dealing with serious adjustment issues end up being forced to choose between their own wellbeing, their RAs wellbeing and the risk that advocating for themselves ultimately harms their roommate.

Two-room doubles aren’t much better. Students get to sleep in separate rooms, but you’re forced to choose between constantly walking in on your roommate as they’re changing clothes or constantly being walked in on. No matter how much knocking both people do, accidental awkwardness is unavoidable.

The room options aren’t the only problem. Safety is an issue, too. As someone living in one of the dorms in Sterling Quad, I’ve experienced multiple false fire alarms in my own dorm this year. One of them went off at 4:40 in the morning and then wasn’t shut off for more than 25 minutes. In that instance, the fire department and police actually showed up and inspected each room. The other times that the alarm went off, no one came. Other dorms in Sterling Quad have also had multiple false fire alarms this year. One time, the alarm continued going off for more than an hour. When I drew into this Quad, a friend who lived there last year warned me not to bother leaving the building when the fire alarm goes off.  These false alarms teach students not to leave the building during an alarm, which would be incredibly dangerous if an actual fire breaks out. Furthermore, they teach the fire department and other emergency responders that ‘fires’ at our Quad are likely false alarms, which can also have serious consequences.

It’s not just fire safety. My dorm is one of the last on campus without key card entry. We use our room keys to unlock the front door so, being lazy college students, people frequently prop the doors open and let others into the dorm. Residents have received three emails so far this year telling us not to let strangers into the dorm after reports of people not affiliated with Stanford wandering the halls. The most recent email included a warning that snakes occasionally enter through open doors, which is terrifying. I suppose we should be grateful that we haven’t gotten an additional unauthorized resident, as Meier Hall did in the past.

Stanford dorms sometimes feel like the world’s worst safari. Aside from the snakes, our dorm has suffered through at least four ant infestations. We also have spiders (especially in the bathroom), silverfish (which I didn’t know existed until this year) and some kind of large flying bug that I prefer not to think about. Repeated FixIt requests about this have yielded little action and even less actual bug exterminating. Every Stanford dorm I’ve been in (which includes all but one of the non-Row residences) has gnats in the showers.

Some of this is inevitable. But much of it is not. Stanford has more than enough resources to build dorms without one- or two-room doubles. We could have single bedrooms connected by a shared bathroom, as Harvard’s Radcliffe dorms do. We could have all single rooms and simply pair people up as “freshman friends” (or some other cheesy name). We could have common rooms with three to five single bedrooms branching off of them. There are other options, and Stanford has the resources to choose them. Replacing fire alarms with ones that actually work might require some rewiring, but I’d prefer to know that the fire department takes alarms from my dorm seriously. Bug extermination would also be helpful.

Contact Sarah Rebecca Meyers at smyers3 ‘at’ stanford.edu

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