East Wheelock’s ‘Intentional Community’ Ethic Is Spreading


In her eight years as faculty director of the living/learning program in the East Wheelock Cluster, Professor Susan Brison has seen firsthand how students thrive in the diverse and intellectually vibrant residential community.

“I have seen life-changing moments that just can’t happen in the back of a large lecture hall or auditorium,” says Professor Susan Brison, who has been the faculty director of the East Wheelock Cluster for the past eight years. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00 )

“Everything we do here supports the intellectual life of the College. We don’t have a sharp divide between academic life and social life,” Brison says. “What happens in discussions at the director’s house, in events in Brace Commons, and in chance conversations in the dormitories is as intellectually valuable as what happens in the classroom.”

President Phil Hanlon ’77 has pointed to the success of East Wheelock in his call for expanding living/learning residence options at Dartmouth. Four residential communities are in the works for the fall, including spaces centered on entrepreneurship and international language and cultures.

As Brison, who is chair of the Department of Philosophy and teaches in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, prepares to leave the director’s job, she is hopeful that the lessons of East Wheelock will guide President Hanlon’s vision of establishing a variety of residential communities across Dartmouth.

Taking over for Brison will be Sergi Elizalde, associate professor of mathematics. He and his wife, Helen Hong, an attorney who has worked with a variety of local non-profit organizations, will relocate this summer to the East Wheelock faculty residence at 13 East Wheelock Street with their 5-year-old son, Guillem.

“I’m delighted that the program will continue in such capable hands and I think the East Wheelock students will enjoy having a young child in their midst,” Brison says.

Sergi Elizalde, associate professor of mathematics, will be the next faculty director of the East Wheelock Cluster. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00 )

East Wheelock has been an “intentional community” and a “college within the College,” since it began in 1996, Brison says. Then-President James O. Freedman envisioned the cluster of four dormitories and a faculty residence as a pilot program modeled on the residential college system at other Ivies, such as Harvard and Yale. There have been five faculty associate families living in the residence at 13 East Wheelock since the cluster was created. Before Brison, professors Tom Luxon and Ivy Schweitzer lived there, from 2001 to 2006.

Sergi Elizalde is New Faculty Director of East Wheelock

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson and Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences Michael Mastanduno announced Thursday, May 15, that Sergi Elizalde, associate professor of mathematics, will be the next faculty director of the East Wheelock residential cluster.

“We are pleased Sergi has agreed to assume this leadership role in the East Wheelock residential cluster, which has been an important anchor of the College’s living-learning program for more than 15 years,” Johnson says.

Elizalde is a native of Barcelona, Spain. He earned his undergraduate degree at the Universitat Politècnica De Catalunya and his PhD at MIT before joining Dartmouth’s Department of Mathematics in 2005. His scholarly interests lie in enumerative and algebraic combinatorics, including applications to computational biology and dynamical systems. In addition to his academic accomplishments, Elizalde holds a degree in piano from the Professional Conservatory of Music of Terrassa, Spain, and speaks six languages.

“Sergi is well known for his accessible teaching style and his interest in actively engaging students through campus and community activities,” Mastanduno says. “We are confident he will be a wonderful addition to this community and a terrific resource for these students.”

Elizalde succeeds outgoing director Professor Susan Brison, chair of the Department of Philosophy, who has guided the East Wheelock living-learning program for the last eight years.

“Professor Brison’s extended service in East Wheelock has come to define the best of living-learning communities at Dartmouth,” Johnson says.

Elizalde and his wife, Helen Hong, an attorney who has worked with a variety of local nonprofit organizations, will relocate this summer to the East Wheelock faculty residence at 13 East Wheelock Street with their 5-year-old son, Guillem.

Zoë Vesley-Gross ’16 says the culture of East Wheelock is supportive and inspiring. “Being around people who try hard and enjoy what they do can be infectious, and I think of East Wheelock as a place designed specifically to give that kind of infectious enthusiasm for learning to the members of the Dartmouth community who choose to live there.”

Over the last 18 years, East Wheelock has deepened a culture devoted to the integration of the intellectual and social lives of students.

“There need to be more options,” Brison says. “So what I really hope is that different kinds of residential communities become the norm. I think they should be four-year communities, although some disagree. These would be places alumni could come back to for reunions. People don’t come back to their dorm for reunions. They come back to fraternities and sororities. There should be other options—places people think of as their Dartmouth home.”

Mike Wooten, director of residential education, is spearheading Dartmouth’s efforts to develop living and learning “neighborhoods.”

“East Wheelock has always been a place of integration of academic and residential life, which is exactly the work we need to be doing,” Wooten says

The four new residential options in the works for the fall are DEN in Residence, centered on the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network; Triangle House, centered on issues and needs of the LGBTQIA community; the Global Village, which will coalesce around international issues and interests; and Design Your Own, which will give sophomores, juniors, and seniors the opportunity to propose an issue- or interest-centered living arrangements, Wooten said.

Each new housing option will be developed around interests and will offer students the right to return as a home base throughout their undergraduate years. The Global Village residence will consist of 160 beds in the McLaughlin Cluster. DEN in Residence will begin in the fall with 25 students based in New Hampshire Hall, and that group will plan and expand the pilot for the following fall. Triangle House will offer 27 beds based in the residence at 4 North Park Street.

The Design Your Own communities are a bit more flexible, Wooten says. Currently his office is looking at 12 proposals for interest clusters comprising up to 25 people. These groups will be scattered through residence halls across campus and could fluctuate from term to term, Wooten says.

“All these new programs will really be East Wheelock 2.0,” Wooten says.

East Wheelock has been, since its inception, a residential option in which students who are committed to the principle of fostering a community where students, faculty, staff, and deans interact socially, intellectually, and culturally can return. The cluster offers a space where undergraduate advising, academics, creative interactions, and socializing are thoroughly integrated.

Since it began in 1996, first-year students have been able to select the East Wheelock cluster as their first housing choice when they come to Dartmouth, and, in subsequent years, students who have shown they are committed members of the community by taking part in cultural activities, self-governance, and other community-building commitments, are virtually assured they can return. The number of people selecting the cluster over the past decade has steadily increased, Wooten says.

The opportunities to participate and interact at East Wheelock are many. Undergraduate Dean Francine A’Ness has an office in the cluster and sponsors “Tea with the Dean” every Friday. The community director from the Office of Residential Life, Josiah Proietti, lives in the complex and coordinates interest groups and self-governance. Two faculty fellows, Noelia Cirnigliaro and Sebastian Diaz-Duhalde, who live in apartments connected to the East Wheelock residence, coordinate additional events with faculty and students.

This commitment to community building is on display all the time in the residence, Proietti says. For example, a group of students spontaneously organized a two-hour arts showcase and banquet in East Wheelock’s Brace Commons recently for prospective students who were visiting campus. Student performances included Chinese dance, Indian music, and sleight of hand.

“It was an incredible, welcoming night, and it also really showed the diversity of this place rather than talking about diversity,” he says. “It was a picture of the potential of Dartmouth sitting with the beauty of Dartmouth.”

Jessica Ma ’16 is a first-year undergraduate adviser in East Wheelock. “I have loved living in and working with the residents of East Wheelock because it’s this tight-knit community where people feel comfortable just being themselves,” she says. “I’ve met so many amazing people just by going to events and hanging out on the floors, and I think that speaks to how open East Wheelock residents are to meeting new people.”

Then there are the social and cultural gatherings in the faculty residence.

“One of the most exciting things for me is that an average of twice a week students come here and meet with some of the most incredible people coming through Hanover, right here in this living room,” Brison says. “Frank Stella, Calvin Trillin, Roz Chast, performers from the Hopkins Center, Montgomery Fellows—they come here and sit on this couch and they will turn to students and say, ‘What are you doing? What do you want to do?’ ”

“I have seen life-changing moments that just can’t happen in the back of a large lecture hall or auditorium,” Brison says.

As she prepares to turn over the keys, Brison is hopeful that many more Dartmouth spaces will play host to the kinds of transformative moments she has experienced in the living room at 13 East Wheelock.

Bill Platt