For the first time since the opening of New Dorm in 1991, the Brown campus has a new residence: the wellness center and the residence, housing both a 162-bed dormitory and the health services of university. The new building opened its doors to students on May 9th. With air-conditioning, floor-to-ceiling windows and a combination of single rooms and suites for four people, the residence almost seems too good to be true. Those who moved in over the summer expressed appreciation for its design and amenities, as well as its goal of integrating well-being into student life.
The Wellness Center dormitory certainly sets a promising tone for future university housing expansions, and its mission to promote wellness is admirable. At the same time, the building’s almost luxurious design highlights existing inequalities in Brown’s residential experience, setting a worrying precedent for future development. What we want is that there are no “better” dorms – only good ones.
Since students are required to live on campus during their sixth semester, nearly three-quarters of undergraduates live in on-campus housing. After their first year, most students end up participating in the Housing Lottery, a process that randomly awards screening times at which students can choose any unclaimed room. This random lottery system is probably the most equitable way to distribute the available accommodation; what is not fair is the staggering disparity between residences.
While some students thrive in suites at Barbour Hall and 315 Thayer St., complete with furnished kitchens and living rooms, others are isolated in the cramped bachelors of Grad Center. Some live in spacious double rooms with high ceilings, like at Metcalf and Miller; others in triple forced basement. Those lucky enough to live in a wellness center or a new dormitory enjoy the rare luxury of air conditioning, while others sweat the summer heat. New and renovated dormitories have bright, clean halls and welcoming common areas. Others show their age in peeling paint and grubby carpets.
These details may seem small, but they have a disproportionate impact on the social and emotional well-being of students. Brown claims to have a campus that “instills a sense of community among our members,” according to his strategic plan for campus development. But drastic inequalities in housing end up fracturing us. What’s also worth noting about Wellness Dormitory is that it requires application, selecting students with wellness-focused “freebies and practices”. But don’t all students, no matter what they have to offer, deserve good accommodation? Instead of favoring the community, this selection process only weakens it.
The University charges each student approximately $ 10,000 per year to live on campus, regardless of financial aid. Since each semester lasts approximately four months, these room charges add up to a hefty rent of $ 1,250 per month. Room charges are the same regardless of where a student resides on campus, whether they live in the Wellness Center or the Graduate Center. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all be paying the same rent. But equal rent should mean equal living conditions, and that just isn’t the case.
So why is there so much variation among housing options? Perhaps for the same reason New Dorm kept its name for so long: the University hasn’t built a new residence for three decades. Additionally, although several large-scale renovations took place during this period, the most recent was completed in 2013, when the Metcalf and Miller freshman residences were overhauled. More modest and piecemeal improvements have been made since then, but real progress towards better and fairer housing has slowed considerably.
The Wellness Center dormitory, in addition to the planned Brook Street college dormitory, may seem like a step in the right direction. But we are skeptical that the University will maintain this momentum. Its main concern appears to be increasing housing capacity, not improving overall quality; Administrators suggested that “by building these two new facilities, the University hopes to eliminate the need for off-campus housing for undergraduates,” The Herald previously reported. In the same article, Koren Bakkegard, associate vice president for campus life, noted that housing more students on campus would ease pressure on the Providence housing market. This goal is laudable. But in the end, the addition of these two residences, as beautiful as they are, will only materially improve the lives of a fraction of the students on campus. The wellness center has 162 beds. So why does the University prioritize the well-being of just 162 students?
To be clear, we don’t advocate luxury; we don’t need to live in a five star hotel. And we have nothing against the students who live in the wellness center or in one of the “best” dormitories. What we want is fairness.
To this end, the University should focus on improving residential life on campus, not just expanding it. Whether it’s replacing old residences with new ones or renovating the ones we have, the University shouldn’t stop at the Wellness Center, and it shouldn’t wait 30 more years. He should continue to improve conditions until all of his students can live well.
– Editorials are written by the editorial board of The Herald. This editorial was written by its editor Johnny Ren ’23, and members Clara Gutman Argemí ’22, Catherine Healy ’22, Olivia Burdette ’22, Devan Paul ’24 and Kate Waisel ’24.