College's reputation lags behind its reality

by Steve Hoffman | 7/31/93 5:00am

Throw all your college guidebooks away, forget about what you may have seen on 20/20 and don't rent "Animal House" this summer. Though each source claims to portray the true image of the College, none of these sources knows Dartmouth as well as those who have experienced it.

For most of its 224-year history, Dartmouth has had the reputation of being a homogeneous institution crawling with white, conservative, beer-pounding males whose social lives dominate their academic pursuits.

But that place has crumbled, giving way to a Dartmouth that is becoming more intellectual, diverse and progressive while the school searches for the perfect balance between its academic and social sides.

Dartmouth's other reputation, that of an elite institution of higher learning, is getting even stronger. A poll of Ivy League students put Dartmouth as the fourth best Ivy school (behind Harvard, Yale and Princeton) and by a wide margin reported Dartmouth to have the best professor accessibility of any of the Ancient Eight.

When College President James Freedman took office in 1987, Dartmouth ranked as the least intellectual of all the Ivy League Schools and the mere mention of the school's name invoked thoughts of sexism, racial intolerance and wild fraternity parties.

Under mandate from the College's Trustees, Freedman has shed these stereotypes, inducing intellectualism and attempting to make the College a more comfortable place for women, minorities and students as individuals rather than conformists.

Books vs. parties

Just before his first academic year in Hanover, Freedman told The New York Times, "What I hope we are able to do at Dartmouth is to emphasize that the life of the mind is the central thing that this place is about."

His work has paid off. The Class of 1997 boasts more high school valedictorians and higher mean SAT scores than any previous Dartmouth class.

At the same time, though, administrators realize Dartmouth will always be Dartmouth -- a small, isolated school where students value their social lives.

"Dartmouth will always have the reputation as being a social, fun, outdoorsy school," College Spokesman Alex Huppe said.

"We're moving away from the 'old boy' but not quite toward the raging feminism," said Jenn Main '95, summer president of the Coed Fraternity and Sorority Council, the governing body of the College's Greek system.

Traditionalists who cling to the stereotypical "Animal House" behavior are harder to find at the College these days, but still make themselves known. Yet, those who party hard usually study hard as well.

"What makes Dartmouth work is the tug of war between the two extremes," Main said. "It's not a matter of you're either an intellectual or a rager. Dartmouth provides a unique experience to be both."

Main said students know how to balance their academic work and social lives.

"I see people in the library until 11 p.m. on a Friday night and then they'll still go out afterwards," Main said. "People don't make a big deal about having to study; it's definitely not shunned."

Under Freedman, the College has created several new programs that promote individual scholarly work. Among these are the Presidential Scholars Program, which allows juniors to conduct research for a faculty member to prepare for honors work during their senior years, the Women in Science Project, which sponsors internships and speakers to encourage female students to pursue majors and careers in math and the sciences, and the E.E. Just Program, which provides internships and programs to minority students interested in the sciences.

The Diverse Dartmouth Family

While the campus is becoming more intellectual, it is also becoming more progressive and inclusive.

"Dartmouth is a much more hospitable place in 1993 than in 1985 when I got here," Huppe said.

In 1986, 10.6 percent of Dartmouth undergraduates were minorities. The Class of 1997 is comprised of 24 percent minority students and 47 percent female students, the closest Dartmouth has ever come to gender parity.

Student organizations that cater to minority groups on campus, like the Afro-American Society, Native Americans at Dartmouth and Hillel, the Jewish student organization, are growing in membership and developing stronger voices.

Women's organizations are also growing and gaining strength. Some of the more vocal groups include the Untamed Shrews, a women's theater group, Spare Rib, a feminist publication and The Panhellenic Council, the governing body of the College's sorority system.

The College is also working hard to promote awareness of gay and lesbian issues. Dartmouth became one of the first schools in the nation to threaten to eliminate its Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) from campus if the military's gay ban is not lifted.

The administration is currently considering a plan to extend the College's health benefits to the domestic partners of gay and lesbian College employees, effectively treating them as legal spouses. If approved, Dartmouth will join only a handful of other educational institutions who have instituted similar policies.

There are two campus organizations promoting gay and lesbian issues, both which include participants from every sexual preference, specifically The Dartmouth Area Gay and Lesbian Organization for students and the Coalition for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Concerns for faculty and staff.

Shifting political slant

Despite its conservative reputation, the student body has ultimately elected a liberal Student Assembly president for the past three years.

Yet, last year when Assembly President Andrew Beebe '93 called for the co-education of Dartmouth's Greek system, many students reacted with outrage, creating a political backlash that manifested itself in this year's election. In what many pointed to as a retaliation, students chose Stewart Shirasu '94, a conservative and staunchly pro-Greek candidate, as their leader.

After allegations of election wrongdoings forced Shirasu to resign, a new vote led to the election of Nicole Artzer '94, another pro-Greek candidate who won by a landslide.

An overwhelming majority of Dartmouth students value the Greek system and the social life it provides. But even the system itself is changing, as more houses become involved by forming organizations like Greeks Against Rape and sponsoring social programs that address issues such as alcoholism, A.I.D.S., date rape and gender issues.

While Hanover may be isolated from the rest of the world, students still manage to get involved with many controversial national issues. Last fall, students initiated a protest of the College's investment in Hydro Quebec, a Canadian hydroelectric project which they said supported the cultural genocide of Native Americans in Quebec.

The Trustees of the College divested its $6.8 million bond holdings in January, following the group's suggestion.

Students have also become more aware of the College's role in a changing society, questioning and adapting traditions rather than following them blindly.

A committee of students, faculty and administrators decided last year to end the more than100-year-old tradition where students would smash clay pipes on a College landmark, the stump of the Lone Pine, as part of the senior class activities during the week before Commencement.

The clay pipes ceremony became controversial after Native American students explained that the pipes are considered sacred objects in their culture and that smashing the pipes is sacrilegious.

This year's senior class changed the traditional ceremony, which supposedly represents a symbolic break with the College and a commitment to return someday, substituting clay cups for the pipes.

But despite all the changes, Dartmouth cannot seem to shake it's reputation. "You must be a big drinker," is a common response to students who say they attend Dartmouth.

"For people in higher education the notion of Dartmouth as 'Animal House' has almost dissipated," Dean of Students Lee Pelton said. But, he added, "There are a core of students who drink too much and party too much at the expense of the mission of the College."

Pelton said people often tell him that they find Dartmouth to be "less conservative than they expect." But, Main said remnants of the old Dartmouth remain.

Many agree with Pelton, however, suggesting that Dartmouth's reputation has not caught up with its changes. "Dartmouth's image has not shifted as much as Dartmouth itself has shifted," Huppe said. "Public perceptions die hard if they die at all."

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!