Salovaara: An Interconnected System

by Malcolm Salovaara | 10/28/14 3:32pm

It seems inevitable that the administration will soon wield its big, green sledgehammer and smash the Greek system to smithereens. As an unaffiliated student, I used to be confident in saying that — no matter what happens — it won’t matter to me. But as the tensions rise, I find myself unable to ignore my intense sympathy with both armies on this epic battlefield.

I’m currently frustrated with my ecology class’s portrayal of living systems as random coincidences of isolated individuals, driven only by rational self-interest and competition. This storyline seems to only apply to a small portion of reality. Whenever I walk or sit in the forest, it is abundantly clear that a much greater system that we have apparently failed to acknowledge is at work. This failure is not surprising. The idea that nature — its deaths and sufferings withstanding — is a harmonious, interconnected and astoundingly diverse system does not match the cultural narrative through which we interpret and understand reality.

Similarly unsurprising is Dartmouth’s collective decision to look at the problems of high-risk drinking, sexual assault and unjust exclusivity as the isolated illnesses of “sick” individuals or organizations, and not the symptoms of a disease that affects all of Dartmouth. In my experience, we happily misdiagnose and isolate the problem for fear of disrupting Dartmouth as an academic institution.

Simultaneously, there is a ubiquitous hunger for a more beautiful Dartmouth. I see this everywhere, from a suspended fraternity to the administrators that chose to suspend them. To enter into the more beautiful Dartmouth that we know is possible, we must walk away from the illusion that we are distinct entities with distinct goals. We must embrace the reality that Dartmouth, academically and socially, is an interconnected system of flowing energies.

Let us wake up from the illusion that the negative energies that often manifest themselves in Greek houses also originate in those spaces. Let us wake up from illusion that destroying or altering the preferred place of expression of these energies would destroy or alter the energies themselves. The destructive behaviors that occur behind the protected doors of Greek houses are reactions to the insanely pressurized and stressful environment that Dartmouth academic culture creates. Is it coincidental that the (albeit generalized) activities and ambiances found in fraternity basements are the furthest imaginable scene from many Dartmouth academic classrooms — competitive, manicured and sober to a fault? Greek houses supply the most demanded service at Dartmouth, which is not the diploma. It is retaining some semblance of sanity throughout the ordeal of acquiring that sacred piece of paper. I do not think it far fetched to suggest that Dartmouth students would not lash out with “neurotic” behaviors if Dartmouth’s academic environment did not drive them to and beyond the edge of neurosis.

Imagine a Dartmouth that is defined by positive energy of reality-based experiential education. Instead of outsourcing our academic motivation to external pressures, why not cultivate from within? Why is the joy of learning so often sacrificed for stressful exams and papers when we could be using our inherent creative, passionate and intelligent energy to collaborate across disciplines on experiential learning projects that would make a difference in global and local communities with which we coexist​? Let us ascend to an academic experience that provides connection, meaningful experience and a sense of belonging, thus inoculating this campus with positive energy.

I’m not talking about a complete academic overhaul, or the abandonment of stability. I’m talking about working with what already exists to create a better Dartmouth for all its constituents. Let’s start right now, in this moment, by acknowledging that Dartmouth is one interconnected entity, not a federation of loosely affiliated (no pun intended) states.

With this acknowledgement, we can look at our school as a system and a series of connected flows. From this vantage point, we can address problems at their source — and repurpose their negative energy toward building a more beautiful Dartmouth.

Malcolm Salovaara '17 is a guest columnist.