Class of 2016 sees major policy changes

by Parker Richards | 6/10/16 7:00pm

Construction_ElizaMcDonough
Construction on two temporary buildings for house communities began this year and should be completed by the start of the upcoming academic year.
by Eliza McDonough / Eliza McDonough/The Dartmouth Senior Staff

When the Class of 2016 entered in 2012, Dartmouth accepted Advanced Placement credits. Twenty-one-year-olds could drink hard alcohol. There was no talk of housing communities, and socializing in Greek houses began immediately without a six-week ban.

None of this can be said about Dartmouth in 2016. Much has changed in the past four years. The “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiative, introduced by College President Phil Hanlon in the winter of 2015, included wide-ranging changes: hard alcohol was banned on campus, a new residential housing system was introduced, and new organizational review standards for all student organizations were established.

The College also now does not accept credit for AP courses — although incoming students can still place out of introductory courses. A satisfactory grade on the Calculus AB Exam, for example, will give students credit for Math 03 “Introduction to Calculus” and placement into Math 08 “Calculus of Functions of One and Several Variables.”

The Greek Leadership Council implemented its six-week prohibition on first-year students entering Greek houses — except at specific pre-registered events — on Aug. 30, 2013. The decision, which Princeton University implemented in 2012, was a part of the College’s Greek First-Year Safety and Risk Reduction policy.

A more recent, talked-about change is the end of a need-blind admission policy for international students. The admissions office, starting with the Class of 2020, is using a need-aware policy, which takes the financial need of international applicants into consideration when making their decision.

These policy changes have generated mixed effects, according to student leaders. House communities — possibly the biggest single change in Dartmouth’s undergraduate life over the past decades — are not necessarily met with warmth, although some see potential.

“In talking to house professors, I got the impression they did not understand the PR deficit they were starting out at,” former Sigma Phi Epsilon president Taylor Watson ’16 said.

Watson — who consulted on housing communities’ development as an undergraduate advisor and served as accountability chair for the Greek Leadership Council, amongst numerous other posts in student leadership — said the communities could benefit the student body but only with a strong buy-in from both students and the College.

“On any given night, to be a successful, inclusive community, you have to be more exciting to a freshman than a bunch of free beer — and free beer is pretty great,” he said.

Creativity in planning social events and organizing new traditions within the houses will be key — and that will take “hundreds of dollars per night” and millions per cluster, Watson said.

Not everyone is sure it will be worth the cost.

“Why is so much money being pumped into brand new faculty housing and hopeless community programming when that money could be used to renovate or replace the Choates or River dorms?” senior class president Danny Reitsch ’16 wrote in an email.

In collaboration with senior class treasurer Michael Beechert ’16, Reitsch co-wrote a petition last month that urged administrators to divert their attention from “the realm of student life” and instead prioritize fiscal decisions regarding campus intellectual and social climate. The petition, titled “Take Back Dartmouth,” was released on May 16 under the public name Daniel Webster. It argues that the spike in hiring rates of non-faculty staff is “adding layers of bureaucracy” to the College administration. It also criticizes increased cost of attendance, the new need-aware policy for international students, the alleged increased policing of the Greek system, and the administration’s alleged biased involvement in sensitive student debates. The petition states that “administrators have assumed the role of paternalistic baby sitters.”

Reitsch — who declined to speak in person or over the phone — said he sees potential for the creation of more intramural sporting events through the clusters but does not believe it will foster more student-faculty engagement.

To Watson, however, the creation of a group itself could help boost school spirit.

“The moment you give people a group to belong to, they will freak out and love that group,” he said.

Written in a letter addressed to Allen House members, house professor Jane Hill said she is excited to get to know the students in her house and provide opportunities for them to enhance their intellectual and social worlds.

In a survey The Dartmouth sent to members of the Class of 2016, 27.9 reported feeling favorably about the housing communities, despite not being able to partake in the official start this upcoming fall. 42.7 percent of respondents feel unfavorably.

This may be because the housing system is seen by some as an attempt to replace the Greek system, Watson said. Although he does not believe in that interpretation — and instead offered a vision of the two systems coexisting — some perceive the policy change as a threat to the existence of the Greek system on campus.

“The crackdown on Greek houses has been accompanied by a loss of due process in a lot of respects,” Beechert said.

Beechert said he thinks college administrators are creating excuses to target Greek houses while simultaneously showing too much leniency on what could be threats to free speech.

He cited the November 2015 protest at Baker-Berry Library — which some alleged turned violent and threatening — and the May 2016 removal of “Blue Lives Matter” posters from a Collis Center billboard as notable abdications of responsibility to protect students and their right to speech on the part of the College.

The Moving Dartmouth Forward policies prompted mixed responses. The Class of 2016 existed for two years on campus prior to the policies’ announcement and two years following it, allowing them to see Dartmouth both before and after the changes began to take place.

“I really don’t know,” Beechert said. “The policies may ultimately be a mixed bag.”

Watson adopted a wait-and-see mindset to the policies, which he said have the potential to do good but are not yet adequately studied. Statistics pertaining to the hard alcohol ban are not available, making it difficult to judge its success, he said.

“It’s on [administrators] to put the numbers forward if [they are] not afraid that critics are obviously wrong about it,” he said.

The overall effect of the hard alcohol bad still remains unclear.

According to the Student Wellness Center, alcohol-related incidents with Safety and Security decreased after hard alcohol was first banned in the spring of 2015. There were only 75 reported incidents in the spring of 2015, compared to the 118 reported incidents from the previous spring. However, more recent data suggests that alcohol-related incidents have recently increased. This past winter, Safety and Security reported 122 incidents, the highest rate that they have seen in the past 5 winter terms.

Moving Dartmouth Forward also included a mandatory sexual violence prevention and education program. After Hanlon introduced the policy last January, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence specified the program would include an online consent manual and a campus-specific smartphone application that students can use when they are in unsafe situations. Following this decision, the GLC adopted a new sexual assault policy in which members of a Greek house found guilty of any sexual misconduct by the Committee on Standards would immediately be removed from their respective houses. This announcement came after the GLC voted unanimously in 2013 to pass a new sexual assault policy to place sanctions on those responsible individuals.

In 2015, the college reported that the number of sexual assault cases had increased significantly over the previous two years. Campus experts believed this reflected changes in stigmatization that made survivors at the time feel more comfortable sharing their experiences.

In the senior survey, 39.7 percent feel favorably and 15.6 percent feel unfavorably about the College’s current sexual assault policy.

Reitsch said the Moving Dartmouth Forward policies were “driven by wonderful intentions” but regarding some of the more controversial ones, he noted “it’s a step in the wrong direction” for the College.

“I can’t imagine what all of the MDF funding could be used for if it were instead directed toward Dartmouth’s primary mission — advancing undergraduate education,” he wrote.

Watson criticized the College’s handling of organizational accountability. He said the system of reviewing four organizations per year was too slow to be effective and the metrics utilized — including participation in the web-based OrgSync system — would not ultimately be helpful in gauging groups’ contribution to campus life.

“For every Greek house to get evaluated one time, it will take something on the order of decades,” he said. “That’s a big F for that part [of Moving Dartmouth Forward].”

The Class of 2016 will be the second-to-last that will be able to apply AP credit on their transcripts. While members of the Class of 2018 and onward will be able to receive placement — and even credits that do not count toward their graduation requirement of 35 courses — they will not receive full Dartmouth credit.

“If you want to tell me my AP U.S. History class is not equivalent to the class where you learn to play the gamelan or Russian fairy tales or any of a number of layups that are reputably known to be absolute jokes, that’s so stupid,” Watson said.

An extra off term, made possible by AP credits, could save money, something that Reitsch said might attract strong students to the College.

“Less money should be spent trying to regulate student life and be redirected toward reducing tuition and increasing financial aid in an effort to open the doors of Dartmouth to a wider pool of talented high school students,” he wrote. “Even a $5,000 reduction in tuition would make a world of difference to hundreds of students on the fence between going to Dartmouth or our rival institutions.”

The GLC’s ban on first-year students entering Greek spaces in their first six weeks at Dartmouth was imposed well before Watson became a GLC leader, but he supports the measure and believes it contributes to freshman bonding nonetheless.

It particularly encourages athletes to mingle with other students, he said.

The ban also helps take the burden off of Greek houses and fellow students for risky behaviors that freshmen may take during their first few weeks on campus, Watson said.

Reitsch, however, said the ban drives high-risk drinking underground where it cannot be monitored by older, more experienced students, leading to riskier behaviors and a greater chance of harm to incoming students. He encouraged Greek houses to build stronger relationships with Safety and Security to support students who may be drinking in risky fashions as well.

“The Greek ban is making drinking increasingly more dangerous,” he wrote.

17.6 percent of seniors who took the survey feel favorably about the Greek life changes, and 55.3 percent feel unfavorably. Across the measures of housing community, sexual assault and Greek life policies, however, many respondents feel neutrally about the changes.

Watson and Reitsch seemed to agree on what the College’s future direction should be: greater emphasis on the liberal arts, the College’s traditional mission.

Reitsch wrote that there has been a decline in Dartmouth school spirit in recent years, but an increased focus on undergraduate education might be able to reverse that trend.

“I think much of the negative energy is driven by the administration overstepping boundaries in the social realm of student life,” he wrote.

To Watson, Dartmouth needs to “double down” on its best qualities: a rural campus and its community and traditions.

“The College should not try to be a mini-Harvard College; it should try to be a better Williams College,” he said. “Who cares about Harvard?