What Do You Need a Kitchen For?



In praise of cracks and missing floor tiles.

Courtesy of Meghan Brooks
Courtesy of Meghan Brooks

I am going to admit right off the bat that I have no legitimate cause for complaint
with regard to Dunster’s swing housing, most obviously because I am a senior whose
post-grad apartment will likely be half the size and twice the price of any swing housing
Harvard has to offer. The buildings currently in use for Leverett — Fairfax, Ridgely, and
Hampden —are lovely, with hardwood floors, ensuite kitchenettes, clean white walls, and
none of the pest problems that plague the older river Houses. And, as Friday’s tour
revealed, the recently converted Prescott Street Apartments have the other swing spaces’
amenities with Quad housing’s floor plans. They are large, bright, and conveniently
located for access to classes in the Yard. Even the Inn at Harvard is promising; its
dramatic inner atrium should make for an airy and inviting dining hall and common
space, and its proximity to the Barker Center is enough to make an English concentrator
swoon. This year’s juniors, sophomores, and soon-to-be-sorted freshmen will be just fine
next year, and might even welcome an upgrade from what is admittedly a cramped and
crumbling House.

But still. As a senior who has lived in this House for three years — slept in this
House, eaten in this House, worked in and befriended this House — I am sad for younger
Meese. Unlike many, I am not particularly worried about the effects of Dunster’s
temporary decentralization on the House community. Yes, it will be annoying to have to
walk outside to get to the dining hall — goodbye midnight brain break in slippers — and
students living in Ridgely might choose to eat in Quincy when the Inn feels just a little
too far. Yet, if Qunicy and Leverett are accurate models for swing space living, the draw
of the dining hall and its accompanying common and study spaces will be enough to keep
the community more or less intact. So instead, my sadness lies in the loss of Dunster
itself, the building and the odd intricacies of its interior spaces.

It is arguably strange to defend the ugly and ancient architectural mess that is
Dunster. The dark wood paneled dining hall and sumptuous library aside, Dunster is as
bad as they say it is. As a Dorm Crew Captain previously tasked with cleaning student
suites after move-out and the House fire inspector responsible for monthly safety checks,
I can say with some authority that the building is falling apart. For all the commendable
efforts of our Building Manager and his crew, paint is peeling, windows won’t open,
showers leak incessantly, doors won’t stay shut. There are holes in walls and tiles missing
from bathroom and bedroom floors, and medicine cabinet mirrors are clouded and
blotched in every suite. As for the setup, triples arranged shotgun style and too-small
doubles are the norm. While seniors can expect nicer digs, it is obvious that an overhaul
is order. But what do we lose in the process?

Maybe it’s because I’ve moved eight times in my short life, or because I know
that I have to leave this place in three months, forever, but I will miss Dunster as it is and
believe that the House community will, too. There is solidarity in sharing cramped
bedrooms and thin walls, in running into friends and neighbors in too-narrow basement
corridors, in decamping to the grille with its ripped couches and extensive VHS
collection, in shrieking over cockroaches, in doing sit-ups under the Class of 2005’s
badly painted mural, in telling the MooseList that yet another washing machine is out ofcommission. There is solidarity in knowing that despite our complaining, we love the House.

Sitting in a Dunster suite, reminded that little has changed since the House was
built in 1930 and that we are staring at the same ceiling stains that thousands of Meese
have stared at before us, we are connected to our past in a very real way. Spaces
remember their history, rooms their previous inhabitants. I am sad to leave. I am sad to
see it all erased. (I am sad to see myself erased.) In comparison, swing housing and the
renewal plans are antiseptic. Who needs a kitchen, anyway?

Meghan Brooks ’14 ([email protected]) will miss Dunster House.