Milan: 'Sorry, already gone' – The Dartmouth
September 30, 2022 | Latest Issue
Dartmouth must do more to ensure that international graduate students have housing.
by Vivian Milan | 9/30/22 4:00am
When foreign graduate students arrive in Hanover for the first time, they don’t just contend with the culture of a new country. They must untangle Dartmouth’s housing bureaucracy — and it’s hard to say which is more confusing. Stories abound of international students that have been charged exorbitant rates for Upper Valley apartments — some of them little better than slums — while getting no help from Dartmouth’s Real Estate Office. And the College’s entire housing policy is oriented toward undergraduate housing.
Jian Liang MALS ’23tried to get ahead of the hassle by searching for housing while he was still in China. Upon reaching out to Dartmouth’s Real Estate Office he was simply told “Sorry, already gone”, and turned him away without offering any other support. Liang said that he then turned to Zillow, where the owner of a home in Lebanon said he could not rent the house without a Social Security number, which he did not have. Liang narrowly secured housing in White River Junction before his flight to Boston from Los Angeles.
Dartmouth once had an answer to this conundrum: The North Park apartments, a set of overgrown Craftsman-style bungalows originally built as a graduate housing village. But that changed in November of 2021, when the complex was converted into undergraduate housing without consultation of the Graduate Student Council . The decision prompted a statement from the GSC stressing that this decision would worsen the housing crisis for graduate students and emphasizing the dismissal of the Graduate Student Council’s advice.
“North Park was really great for students – to be able to live there, to be so close to campus, get that sense of community that you get from being close to school and all your activities,” GSC President Irma Vlasac said. “It was a big loss.”
There are also problems with the other graduate housing options.
1 South Main Street, formerly home to Casque and Gauntlet Senior Society, is a 12-bedroom residence that looks like a mansion located on South Main and Wheelock Street across from the Hanover Inn. There are three shared bathrooms, a shared kitchen, a shared common area and a shared eating area. Additionally, five of the rooms in this residence have bunk beds, so some students may also have to share a room, with monthly rent ranging from $1,200-$1,500.
The Tuck School of Business residential facilities offer housing exclusively to Tuck students.. Tuck residential facilities operate under a lottery system, due to the fact that they offer 168 rooms to 285 first-year graduate students.
Meanwhile, Sachem Village is tucked away behind a soccer field and next to a forest where black bears occasionally emerge. The 255-unit community has sidewalks, yards, a playground and lots of parking. However, the prices at Sachem have increased by about $200 since the 2019-2020 academic year.
Getting into any of these residences is a test of fortitude for international students. On the Dartmouth Real Estate Office website, it is stated three separate times that the $50 application fee for Sachem is non-refundable, though students are not necessarily guaranteed a spot. The application fee is not paid online. First, students must fill out an application, then call the Dartmouth Real Estate Office within 24 hours of submitting an application to give the Real Estate Office a credit card number over the phone to secure a spot. This process can be disadvantageous to international students. Sharan Sarkar, the president of the International Graduate Student Mentorship Program, said that wiring money from his home country of India to the U.S. can be a difficult process because not all banks in India provide this service.
The newest addition to the grad student housing lineup is Summit on Juniper, a massive apartment complex in the woods of Lebanon providing 481 beds. Though it was advertised as exclusively graduate student housing, there are undergraduate students living in one of the four buildings, with plans to eventually open apartments up to the public. The prices are out of many students’ budgets. A one bedroom/one bathroom apartment is listed at $1,516. The cheapest option is a four bedroom/two bathroom with each resident paying $1,087. Though it seems Summit on Juniper was the answer to Dartmouth’s housing crisis, its demand for money is not subtle. Many students were given a move in date of Aug. 19, for which they had to pay a full month’s rent, rather than just paying for the two weeks in August.
“Not prorating the amount is not logically or ethically or in any way correct,” Sarkar said.
Sarkar acknowledged that Summit on Juniper has helped alleviate some of the issues surrounding the housing crisis, but she feels that students may feel pressured to live there.
The private market is also full of hazards and surprises. Though Tala Majzoub, a comparative literature master’s student from Lebanon, was able to secure a house that was about a 25-minute walk away from campus in 2021, the landlord never told Majzoub that he counted the attic space as two rooms, so he charged her a double price of $1,200.
“The housing options were extremely limited so I didn’t have the option to be picky,” Majzoub said. “It was a really far place from campus, especially for someone who didn’t know about the area, for someone who just arrived to the U.S. You know, it wasn’t a very safe thing to do.”
With regards to safety, Majzoub and her friends never really knew who was staying in their home because the landlord rented out the basement as an Airbnb space.
“We had randos show up at our apartment sometimes literally in the middle of the night,” she said.
Two weeks before the winter 2021 term started, a friend reached out to Majzoub telling her a room was available at North Park and Majzoub secured the room. She reached out multiple times to the Dartmouth Real Estate Office and never heard back, despite the fact that the homepage of their website states, “We’re here for you.”“No one was of any help, literally,” she said. “I would’ve ended up homeless.”
The Dartmouth Real Estate Office declined to comment on this article. This is a familiar silence for graduate students.
“Writing emails to the school and everything seems to not be yielding anything,” Tolulope Ojo, a biology Ph.D. student from Nigeria, said.
Muhammad Abubakar Khan, a biochemistry Ph.D. candidate originally from Pakistan, saw both sides of the housing crisis in May 2017, when North Park was first given to undergraduate students so that repairs could continue on Morton Hall after the infamous fire. Because Khan is a teaching assistant, undergraduate students vent to him, telling him that their housing is old, hot and sometimes has bad conditions. After six years of being at Dartmouth, he feels more jaded about the disparate treatment of graduate students relative to their undergraduate peers.
“Grad students have always been disposable,” Khan said.
Ojo also noted that the College is not providing TAs with adequate salaries to pay rent — and with rent prices rising across the board, this is becoming increasingly more difficult.
“This is not New York, I don’t get it,” Ojo said. “I remember when I was signing the lease, the criteria was your salary should be three times whatever your rent is, why is the school deliberately breaking the rule themselves?”
Sarkar added that many of the current incoming grad students are not concerned about housing, but they are very worried about navigating transportation.
For example, Khan did not want to live at Summit on Juniper due to the fact that it is not located near any grocery stores, shopping centers or pharmacies.
“You’re already in the middle of nowhere, and you decided to build a community in another secluded part of the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Shakar also noted that Dartmouth has been increasing the number of admitted graduate students every year, which may benefit the school, but subsequently causes other problems.
“Everyone has the same basic question: If you’re increasing students, then why don’t you have more housing?” she said. “If you don’t have the housing, don’t take in more students. It’s as simple as that. Don’t take in students and not take responsibility for them.”
The Dartmouth administration needs to do more to alleviate the housing crisis among its most vulnerable population. A good start would be a reinvigoration of the Real Estate Office, which is widely panned among those who feel its presence on campus is merely cosmetic. Another idea is including housing vouchers as part of the financial aid package offered to talented international students. Their first test at Dartmouth should be administered in the classroom, not on the streets of the Upper Valley.
“I just wish the Dartmouth community, faculty, and staff would invest more time, and effort and money into this housing crisis, especially for international students who don’t know anyone or anything,” Majzoub said. “It’s a really, really tough, rough start for them.”
Vivian Rachelle is a member of the Class of 2023 in the MALS program. She is the co-chair for the Graduate Student Council’s Committee for Addressing Racism and Equity and is an associate editor for the MALS journal ‘Clamantis.’
Tala Majzoub GR is a former opinion writer for The Dartmouth.
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