Fishbein: Moving Dartmouth Backward

Moving Dartmouth Forward makes Dartmouth more exclusive.

by Daniel Fishbein | 9/22/16 12:30am

I grew up in a small town with small-town values. I knew almost everyone in my high school, and most of my friends spent their weekends running outside or going to church. I still clearly remember the shock I felt when, one spring day about four years ago, I visited my sister, a Dartmouth ‘16, at college and first set foot in a fraternity.

I have heard lots of people look back with a sense of nostalgia at frats before College President Phil Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward campaign. A lot of my underclassmen peers talk about that era as if it comes straight from a scene of Animal House. Indeed, some of those sentiments are based in reality. One of my friends, a ‘15, recently told me the other day about fabled cocaine-fueled bacchanalias held upstairs at Alpha Delta. To a lesser extent, on my visit to see my sister, I drank way too much vodka — then given out in frat basements — and, as a then non-drinker with quite a low alcohol tolerance, could barely get out of bed to go home with my mom around noon the next day.

Now, as a ‘19 about to potentially go through the rush process, both the pros and cons of Hanlon’s crackdown on Greek life have become clearer to me. On the one hand, Dartmouth has taken measures against an institution that many see as the embodiment of a patriarchal, elitist hierarchy, one that could be taken as a launching pad for sexual violence in which both women and those who didn’t attend the right prep school are meant to feel excluded.

On the other hand, in reducing the presence of Greek life the administration has diminished the accessibility of a community on campus previously open to all. Since Alpha Delta, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Beta Alpha Omega fraternities have been either shut down entirely or put on probation, I’ve overheard frat brothers in currently active houses saying that they expect more selective rush classes than ever.

With fewer spots available for brothers and a sense of paranoia toward Safety and Security as well as any action that might rub the college the wrong way, the Greek system now seems a lot more exclusive than the open and inviting fraternities I visited with my sister four years ago. If Dartmouth then were the same as it is now, I know that I would not have been able to see the vibrant social scene the College had to offer, and perhaps would not have eventually applied to Dartmouth.

Though Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward plan has many benefits, its biggest drawback is that it does not establish any other comparable communities on campus. Despite attempts to phase out fraternities, many of my friends and I still feel obliged to rush, especially without any alternative place to relax with people we might not otherwise see or meet. Yet with fewer houses available, the rush process has turned into a sort of drama fest, in which potential pledges have no choice but to pander to brothers in an attempt to get bids anywhere. In trying to do away with what he viewed as an exclusive, hierarchical system, Hanlon has only reinforced these concepts in the fraternities that remain.

I see the attempts the College has made to create new and different social spaces. Maybe all these places need is time to integrate into Dartmouth culture. Perhaps, if my sister had taken me to a North Park House event, I would have viewed it the same way I view fraternities. Yet Dartmouth could also be more open to alternative Greek houses such as the Tabard, which are gender-neutral and thus more inclusive than traditional fraternities.

Regardless of what action Dartmouth chooses to take going forward, I regret that my class, and likely many classes after my own, have to bear the brunt of this culture change. As Hanlon has shifted his attentions toward Dartmouth’s future, he may have neglected its present.