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Harvard College

Dunster Diaspora

9.8.14

Hampden Hall, at 8 Plympton Street, is one of the Harvard-owned buildings in the Square sheltering Dunster House residents this year.

Hampden Hall, at 8 Plympton Street, is one of the Harvard-owned buildings in the Square sheltering Dunster House residents this year.

Photograph by Harvard Magazine/JS

While most upperclassmen returned to their former dormitories for the beginning of the fall semester, the residents of Dunster—one of the oldest of Harvard’s Houses, and the first to undergo full renewal—came back to brand-new homes scattered across Harvard Square. Dispersed among the former Inn at Harvard, Ridgely Hall, Hampden Hall, Fairfax Hall, and four buildings on Prescott Street, the Dunster community is now adjusting to a quite radical temporary relocation. But the House residents seem to enjoy the new living arrangements.

The Dunster renovation project began soon after graduation and is scheduled to last for a year. Meanwhile, the House offices and dining hall have been relocated to what was the Inn at Harvard (on Massachusetts Avenue at Quincy Street), which also hosts the House’s common spaces and is home to a sizable group of students.

Leaving Dunster proper has come with a number of perks for its residents. Juniors and seniors are enjoying the comforts of swing housing, including rooms that make most other students jealous, extra furniture like sofas and coffee tables, and kitchens. Moreover, they can leave their suites five minutes before the beginning of class and still arrive on time, an experience that they have not had since freshman year. The sophomores who populate the Inn live in refurnished hotel rooms that are newer and more spacious than the suites they would have been assigned at the old Dunster. Plus, the rooms at the Inn are equipped with air conditioning, which no one will need come October but proved a lifesaver during fall semester’s hot and humid first days. Bathroom incidents aside, Dunster students are quite content with the new living situation, which several have defined as an upgrade from last year. Gone are the days of Fly-By and bag lunches. The House dining hall, which occupies the first floor of the Inn, is just outside the Yard, making it easy for Dunsterites to grab a meal there between classes.

Nevertheless, the old Dunster House will be missed this year. Although wide, bright, and functional, the new dining hall does not stand comparison with the elegant and homey old one. Besides, even though the Inn at Harvard has been designed to be the hub of House life—and renamed Dunster Headquarters to convey a sense of cohesion—the current living arrangements may weaken the sense of community for which Dunster is renowned. As we no longer all live under the same roof and clustered around a single courtyard, it is now harder to meet, be around, and run into fellow housemates and tutors who live in a different building. Moreover, the rooming lottery has caused sophomores, who are assigned to suites after juniors and seniors have chosen theirs, to be disproportionately represented at the Inn and underrepresented at the other swing buildings, which may prove an obstacle to inter-class bonding. The House master and co-master live in their own residence on Prescott Street, which contributes to making the House feel somewhat disjointed.

Despite these concerns, the mood among relocated Dunster residents is positive so far. Excitement about the new House spaces is still in the air, and upperclassmen are just as confused as sophomores about how everything works in the new buildings. Time will tell whether the diaspora will make Dunster any less of a community.

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