Verbum Ultimum: This Is Your Campus

The Dartmouth community has yet to value and support minority identities.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 2/22/19 2:20am

 Dartmouth hails its diversity as an element that enriches its educational environment, calling it “one of [its] great natural resources.” The offices, initiatives and programs dedicated to promoting diversity on campus are flashed across marketing and outreach platforms, meant to demonstrate Dartmouth’s commitment to diversity and praise the impact they’ve had on students. At first glance, the demographics of the student body and the institution’s diversity efforts do appear praiseworthy; viewed more closely, though, it is difficult to ignore the unsettling nature of the language used to describe this diversity. 

This language reflects an institutional climate that uses the presence of underrepresented minorities in the community as accessories to embellish and glamorize this campus. When taken in context, calling diversity a “great natural resource” at Dartmouth objectifies the individuals whose very identities create that diversity. To devalue on an institutional level the very identities that create the diversity Dartmouth praises is to send a message to the overall community that diversity is little more than a checkbox to check. This is, after all, still a campus that has sparked national outrage through its denials of tenure to prominent, well-regarded faculty of color; that still harbors individuals who target students and faculty with racist digital and physical messages; where conservatives invite individuals such as Dinesh D’Souza ’83 who spread hateful and intolerant ideas; where underrepresented minorities are still marginalized from the mainstream social scene. 

It is clear that members of the Dartmouth community have not been kind to each other. While issues of this nature are pervasive at many higher education institutions, they are particularly exacerbated at Dartmouth. Not only does the College still carry the undertone of a legacy of white male entitlement, it exists in a location that makes it improbable to diversify the employees who allow this very campus to operate. The dominant student narrative is incredibly rigid, placing status on labels that are deeply intertwined with white, upper class values and creating intense social pressures to follow specific paths to succeed or even to just be “relevant.”

Coming to Dartmouth forces minorities to think critically about their identities. Existing with a non-Dartmouth-normative identity on this campus creates no other option but to juxtapose the realities of one’s life with the realities of the dominating narrative. What was once an everyday reality for some students — what they wear, what they eat, how they speak, what they’re interested in, how they spend their time — can all too easily feel alien or unwanted. In a space where the collective consciousness can be all-consuming, it can often feel far easier for many to trade in their individuality for the ways of the collective. 

The praise that Dartmouth gives to diversity and the lip service it pays to prizing individual lived experiences is incongruous with the funnel that the campus culture pressures students to fall into. The reality is that being diverse is vastly different from valuing diversity — which requires the resources to sufficiently support marginalized communities, the eradication of a pervasive culture of white male entitlement, a revolution in the mainstream social scene, greater representation in the faculty and higher administration, the evolution of the dominant student narrative to be more inclusive and flexible — the list goes on.

Today’s Dartmouth community is contributing toward making the great strides necessary to revolutionize what it means to belong here, just as past Dartmouth communities have done. But creating the Dartmouth that its community dreams of takes time — and in the meantime, while the students of today are here, they must individually cultivate a sense of grounding in their identities as they navigate this place. 

 Self development at Dartmouth takes as many forms as there are individuals who walk through this campus. For minorities, being confronted with overbearing social pressures in an environment that devalues minority identities can all too often create feelings of jadedness and isolation that develop into self-damaging attitudes and behaviors. Some may decide that becoming the narrative is easier than developing their own, and some may thwart the narrative to find their own sense of value in their identity. 

Valuing minority identities at Dartmouth requires reframing the way that belonging is defined. To belong is to create space for ownership — and the presence of minorities on campus has created new communities over time that are more inclusive and diverse. As the College develops to become a better version of itself, the Dartmouth community has a responsibility to think critically as current spaces evolve and new spaces are created to consider minority voices and their incredible contributions.

To minorities: you belong here. You have the power to decide that you own your Dartmouth experience. Without your very presence to challenge the normative standards, Dartmouth would never have been able to grow as an institution. You’ve started valuable conversations that will affect the course of Dartmouth’s future, and the communities you’ve joined have positively benefited from the lived experience that you contribute. This is your campus. 

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.