Beechert: Bursting the Dartmouth Bubble

by Michael Beechert | 10/18/15 6:30pm

One of Dartmouth’s greatest strengths is its sense of community. When compared to its peer institutions, many of which are located in urban environments, the College can rightly claim to have cultivated a particularly cohesive environment and a strong sense of campus identity. This is owed, in large part, to location. Without the possibility of disappearing into a large city to seek out food or entertainment, students are forced to make use of what the Dartmouth campus and the town of Hanover have to offer. Running into your peers over and over again, in the same restaurants, stores and social spaces, invariably leads to some sense of familiarity. This can be comforting, particularly for first-years who are thrust into an entirely new environment, and Dartmouth should — and does — use this fact as a selling point when appealing to prospective students.

After enough time on campus, however, the College’s environs start to feel like transparent walls. As quaint and picturesque as Hanover is, there are only so many streets to explore and businesses to frequent, and seeing the same faces day after day on campus begins to engender a sense of staleness. Students, caught up in the narrowly drawn borders of the Dartmouth experience, may begin to lose track of what is going on in the world beyond Hanover. This is not necessarily intentional, as it is easy to allow oneself to be passively wrapped up in the comforting insularity of the campus bubble. It is a trap into which I have fallen many times. But it is in the best interest of every student, and of the health of the Dartmouth community as a whole, to puncture that bubble once in a while. Doing so allows us to remain engaged with the world at large, as well as to take a deep breath and re-evaluate how we define our experiences here.

Students can begin by reading a non-campus newspaper more regularly. One of the more disappointing characteristics of the Dartmouth student body in general, I have come to notice, is how under-informed people tend to be with regard to national and international current events. This is often reflected in the quality of conversations that one can hear simply walking around campus. A visitor without any other sources of information might not, based on what he picks up in the dining hall or library, realize that there is a refugee crisis happening in Europe but he would learn plenty about how last night’s pong games unfolded. We should not be proud of this, as a sense of intellectualism should permeate every aspect of a university that likes to think of itself as a leading force in higher education. Fortunately, students can cultivate a more intellectual campus environment quite easily. All that is required is a curiosity about what is going on outside the confines of Hanover, and developing and acting upon such curiosity together would make our community much stronger.

From time to time, establishing a physical distance between oneself and the Dartmouth bubble can be of great benefit. When seemingly everyone is stressed out over midterms or the job-hunt or obsessed with talking about the latest overblown campus controversy, it is useful to take a step away and enjoy a change of scenery. Interacting with people not affiliated with the College, be they nearby family members or friends at other schools, can provide a refreshing and much-needed change of perspective. Boston and Montreal, only a couple hours away by car or bus, offer social and cultural outlets for those wishing for more than what is to be found in Hanover, so take a weekend off and make the trip. With proper planning and good time management, every student should be able to venture outside the bubble at least once a term. And if your academic plans allow for it, explore one of the myriad study abroad opportunities the College makes available to its students. Spending a couple of months in another country can do wonders for the depth of one’s perspective, and looking back on experiences from overseas helps to combat feelings of isolation and insularity. Doing so allows us, in turn, to truly appreciate the community we have in place.