Billionaire investor and amateur architect Charles Munger has donated $200 million to break ground on a new dorm complex at the University of California, Santa Barbara that he has not-so-humbly named after himself. Munger Hall is designed to be 11 stories, 1.68 million square feet and is set to house a staggering 4,500 students in single-person rooms with only two major entrances. Despite claims that this project is “inspired and revolutionary,” this monstrosity of a building will be detrimental to the health and safety of students.
Shockingly and unlike normal dorms, Munger Hall will not have any windows in the shoebox-like rooms. So, in addition to students being in cramped rooms all by themselves, they will also be stripped of the simple luxury of looking outside or getting fresh air. Although Munger has maintained that there will be virtual windows instead, that is not remotely the same compared to the real deal. Studies have shown that the recommended daily amount of vitamin D is 600 international units for people ages 1 to 70 years. Without windows, sun exposure for students will dramatically decrease. Administration should not expect students to always be walking around outside to get vitamin D. On the contrary, many students, including myself, prefer to study and spend time in their dorm rooms. Without something as simple as a window, there will be more individuals at risk for vitamin D deficiencies.
Furthermore, come fall or winter when days are shorter and it gets dark earlier, it’s very likely that those prone to seasonal depression will be hit the hardest. Students require more than just a bed, closet and desk to live a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. And though Munger has stated that there will be many amenities within the building to help coax students out of their rooms to socialize, these features are for the building as whole, rather than in each floor. So even though these amenities exist, they will definitely be too overcrowded for students to have any meaningful interaction. It’s clear that Charles Munger is completely out of touch with student health, and yet, administration has done nothing to stop this project from continuing. It’s shameful to let this project go on, and the fate of student’s mental well being should not be in the hands of this billionaire investor.
If the mental health risks were not alarming enough, the physical risks are equally as bad. Cramming 4,500 students into one building will be a nightmare come flu season, and this mega dorm will be a breeding ground for the flu and other infectious diseases when students start mingling. It’s disappointing to see such disregard for students’ physical well-being 一 especially considering the fact that the U.S. is barely scraping itself out of the pandemic. And although individuals are encouraged to get their flu shot this year, there is still an opt-out option in terms of the COVID vaccine. It only takes a few unvaccinated students to cause an outbreak and be a danger to those who are immunocompromised, and the construction of Munger Hall welcomes this. And despite the promise that social distancing will be required and that fresh air will be vented in each room, it’s likely that it will be impossible for 4,500 students to socially distance themselves perfectly due to how compact and overcrowded everything is.
Additionally, if there was ever a fire or other disaster, people are doomed. Even though there are 14 additional emergency exits, that is not enough to compensate for the amount of people projected to be living there. When there is an emergency, people often respond in a panic and could very likely crowd these doorways and trample over each other. No amount of safety drills can ever prepare a group this large when it comes to a real disaster.
Considering the housing crisis at UCSB and the threat of lawsuits the school has had to face in light of these problems, it’s likely that administrators are overlooking all of these health concerns for the sake of promptly solving this issue. Instead of shooting this down and looking for more experienced architects to solve the housing crisis, it seems like they are just accepting this large sum of money and sweeping everything else under the rug. As a fellow student myself, this is very concerning and should not become the new standard of living for students. The administration at UCSB needs to stop ignoring the many risks that come along with the construction of Munger Hall and instead advocate for their students.