Best of Both Worlds: Social Spaces at Dartmouth
Social spaces are integral to a well-functioning college. If you think about the places that we frequent on campus, more often than not they are social spaces. In classrooms, we have meaningful conversations and discuss new ideas with our professors and classmates. In dorms, we reflect on our days and imagine our futures with our roommates and floor-mates. In study areas, we reinforce class material and expand our knowledge base with our friends and peers. Every day, people interact with others in a number of different locations.
Dartmouth’s small student body and emphasis on tradition makes it easier for there to be a perceived “norm” as to how to navigate social life. For many students, social scenes are dominated by Greek life, accompanied by the occasional night in town or College-sponsored event. When we’re choosing how to spend our free time, or in a broader sense what social interactions we want to engage in on a day to day basis, it is important to consider what impacts our decisions.
Sociology professor Kimberly Rogers conducts research on how people use cultural beliefs about social groups to make judgments about social norms and how local hierarchies are able to form in small group settings and interactions. Rogers notes the importance of “reflective appraisals,” which are our perceptions of how others see and evaluate us, on how we determine how to think, behave and feel in a particular setting.
“In a lot of situations, we usually use the broader societal cultural context as a barometer, but if you’re within an institutional space, such as on Dartmouth’s campus, the more local cultural context can have a big effect,” Rogers said.
When making the transition to college, people often told me that it will be “the time that [I] can be whoever [I] want to be.” To me, this meant that I had to make some drastic revision as to how I perceived myself and how I thought others perceived me. Looking back, I have noticed that many of my intrinsic qualities, such as my personality, sense of humor and values, haven’t actually changed since coming to Dartmouth. Sure, I got a haircut and some new clothes, but when given the opportunity to completely reinvent what constituted my person, the version of myself I wanted to put forward in the new and exciting college social setting was not far from the person I had always been.
Rogers offered a reasoning for these sentiments.
“We have this socialization experience where we start to learn how other people label us, how other people see us and what other people expect us to do or not do,” she said. “In the new spaces that we go into, we are always going back to that sense of self established when we were younger and either filling it with more ideas that fit with what is already there or, if something new comes in that is in conflict with those ideas, figuring out what is more authentic to us.”
In terms of social interactions, Dartmouth students’ connections with others in the Upper Valley are few and far between. Rogers highlighted the fact that there are “few people in students’ age bracket that they can readily connect with outside of school.”
Therefore, creating safe spaces in town that support diversity and inclusion can be a challenging endeavor. Luckily, there are various groups on campus that are working toward solving this challenge, offering new and exciting ways to interact with other communities.
For example, Collis Center's Programming Board is a student-run organization that works to create social and entertainment events on campus, such as concerts, comedy shows and spoken word performances. Jane Gerstner ’18 has been involved with Programming Board since her freshman winter and now operates its logistical and managerial aspects as executive director. According to Gerstner, one of the most important aspects of planning an event is marketing the event as early as possible. “We’re always trying to think of new ways to advertise our events,” she said. “If we didn’t get the word out about the event to the same extent that we planned it, it’s not a successful event.”
One of her most memorable events as a Programming Board member was Echo Brown ’06’s 2017 spoken-word performance of “Black Virgins are Not for Hipsters,” which she described as “an event that really made people think after leaving” the performance as opposed to some of the more light-hearted and casual events that are thrown throughout the year.
When asked about why Programming Board means so much to her, Gerstner shared similar opinions as Rogers regarding the importance of establishing a variety of social spaces on campus that can cater to as many students as possible.
“There is a stigmatization behind alternative social spaces since they are labeled as ‘alternative,’” she said. “You shouldn’t have to choose one or the other. A lot of Programming Board members are affiliated, myself included, and are also passionate about bringing events on campus that could appeal to a more diverse group of people.”
Friday Night Rock is another organization on campus that is entirely student-run, bringing artists from around the country to Dartmouth’s campus to perform for students on Friday nights. FNR selects artists from a range of genres, such as rap, indie rock, electronic and folk, to appeal to a wide range of audiences. It was initiated in 2004 as a solution to the sheer lack of music scenes in Hanover.
Seeing FNR as a good way to continue her passion for live music in college, Samantha Lafontaine ’18 began her involvement in the program her freshman year as venue manager. Since last year, she has been the general manager of Friday Night Rock, leading meetings and overseeing the general functioning of the group.
When asked about what the process of getting an artist to come perform in Hanover consists of, Lafontaine noted that artists often reach out to the organization to fill tour dates because of Dartmouth’s prime location.
“[Dartmouth] is a good stopping place between Burlington and Boston or Boston and Montreal,” she said.
Like Gerstner, Lafontaine also stressed the importance of making sure events are well-advertised in order to reach out to as many students as possible. According to Lafontaine, FNR has two publicity managers that are responsible for creating posters, weekly blitzes and Facebook events.
According to Lafontaine, FNR is not like anything else on campus. It provides students with a unique way to spend a Friday night relaxing, socializing and enjoying good music.
“Friday Night Rock has been a big part of my time at Dartmouth,” she said. “I think it is a really unique group on campus. Having music playing in a fraternity basement is not the same as what FNR offers.”
Dartmouth students’ social lives can flourish in a variety of places on campus: in the depths of a fraternity basement, at a Coffeehouse Concert in Collis, in the line at King Arthur Flower or even in a study room in the library. No matter the location, having a multitude of social spaces on campus to choose from is a privilege that we should not take for granted. These areas give us the opportunity to meet new friends, reconnect with old ones and make memories of our time at Dartmouth that will last a lifetime.