Solomon: Rooted In

Dartmouth’s strong community may also have a damaging influence.

by Ioana Solomon | 5/16/17 12:35am

When I leave Streeter Hall every morning, I am usually too distracted to notice my surroundings, but last weekend I felt unsettled after registering that my daily route is adjacent to a cemetery. There is nothing particularly odd about the cemetery itself, but its integration into campus feels unusual. What bothered me about the cemetery was not that it was there, that it lacked a border or the feeling of encroachment on a spiritual space, but rather what its vicinity symbolized about Dartmouth.

Dartmouth plants its roots in us. This culture and microcosm we inhabit draws us in for the rest of our lives. Alumni buy homes around the campus to stay within reach. Some return as mentors, professors and parents. Some, going back centuries, have even been buried here. That kind of intimate connection is striking — it is a sign that for many, Dartmouth is home.

Dartmouth prides itself on its traditions and its loyal community. They are aspects we promote. We tell prospective students that our distinct culture will create a home for them, that they will never forget the bonds they made here and the memories they shared.

There are also countless criticisms of this mentality, claims that Dartmouth is elitist, exclusive or unhealthy. This mentality forces a universal devotion that stifles the voice of anyone who is unhappy at Dartmouth, who refuses to pretend otherwise and who wants to publicly voice concern.

Dartmouth does something far more damaging and far more consequential over the long term. It isolates us, detaches us from the people and the world around us and distances us from our own roots. This goes beyond geography and scheduling. It goes beyond the inside jokes, jargon and mannerisms our friends and family do not understand.

Overwhelmingly rich and white, arrogant and elitist, “special” and exclusive, we have created the kind of culture that is acutely toxic to those on the outside but incredibly rewarding — socially and professionally — to those inside. As a result, those of us who do not come from privileged backgrounds might feel tempted to leave the non-white, non-rich elements of our own histories behind in search for a sense of belonging.

For many first-generation, minority or financially disadvantaged students, the education received here will create distance between them and their loved ones at home. It will make it more difficult to communicate as intimately and to have the same feeling of understanding. But the culture of the institution itself will only widen that gap. The pressure to conform, to belong and to plant roots in this place can force students to assimilate into a culture that is not theirs.

Dartmouth’s superiority complex, as well as its racially and socioeconomically homogenous elitism, is damaging for everyone. However, it is far more detrimental for the outsiders — those who feel the need to forget or hide their identities — to be included. In this unanimous bubble of pride and happiness, we have created an obligation to blend in, to partake in to find fulfillment.

Once we leave, many of us will feel uncomfortable in the real world. Whether alone, alienated or lethargic, we may feel a nostalgic desire to return to our more familiar surroundings, to where we felt nurtured, to where we had a buddy for every meal and to where beer pong and fraternity music were sufficient distractions. The “Lone Pine” may begin to have an entirely different meaning.

I do not think I will want to buy a house here or be buried near campus, but I can still acknowledge the magnetic pull Dartmouth will have on me throughout my life. The culture we embrace here can build friendships and memories, and it can make our experience more rewarding. But those benefits come at a cost. Our development here and our choice to root in can distance us from the outside world. It can make us forget who we are and where we came from, and it can turn us into people we did not want to become. We can enjoy Dartmouth, remember our time here and always treasure the granite in our hearts. But to avoid getting lost, we need to keep an eye on ourselves and make sure that we can carry who we are and what we have on this campus on the outside.