A Class With Attitude

by John Strayer | 4/18/96 5:00am

Dartmouth has a lot of ways of keeping one honest. That is, there are several structures that force us to examine our assumptions. One of these factors is the changing character of each individual class of students.

As a College, we are obsessed with class identity. When I matriculated I was told that I was now a '96 for life; no matter if it takes me seven years to graduate, or if I never graduate at all. Each class has an attitude all its own, but one of the major failings of seniors is that we fail to realize that the younger classes think differently. By rejecting this senior tendency toward stodginess, I am able to approach next week, Sexual Assault Awareness Week, with renewed optimism.

I probably wouldn't realize how attitudes have changed if it weren't for my house, Amarna. Having moved out of the dorms years ago, Amarna is really my only source of consistent and meaningful interaction with '97s and '98s.

Like most seniors, Winter term marked my retirement from leadership positions in the organization. As '97s pick up the reins, I continue to offer advice. While this is usually accepted as valuable, every once in a while I am reminded, "John, that is such a '96 way of thinking. You've got to get past that bias."

OK, maybe I'm biased, but can you blame me? Andrew Beebe, '93 spoke at my Convocation and declared that the College must act now and require the Greek System to go coeducational.

Suffice it to say, this caused more than a little bit of controversy and discussion. My early years at Dartmouth were marked by mortar and artillery fire back and forth between the two entrenched camps. There wasn't a lot of thinking, but plenty of name-calling and defensiveness.

Meanwhile, there was a running commentary in the Dartmouth Review (which people used to talk about all the time) supporting the Greek system, written by a bunch of guys who were far too dorky to get into fraternities. As you might expect, this commentary helped fuel the combative tone of campus discussion.

The battles between "conservatives" and "liberals" were often waged in the Student Assembly, where during my sophomore year, a band of "conservatives" attempted to impeach president Nicole Artzer '94.

This is the situation that shaped my conception of Dartmouth and formed the background for theorizing on how to improve the situation. Perhaps most importantly, this influenced my approach toward Amarna, and its role on campus.

Things haven't changed so much that my original ideas are obsolete, but they must be modified to form a new understanding. Underclassmen have helped me to realize that the artillery fire has died down and that the average '97 or '98 is much more aware of the shades of gray.

And so I head into this year's Sexual Assault Awareness Week. The theme this year is "Dartmouth: A Culture of Violence?" My freshman year such a theme would have been asking for disaster: a lot of yelling and no progress.

It's almost like we have matured to a point where we can handle introspection. At least I hope so. We will find out shortly. Monday, a speaker will raise the questions surrounding athletics and sexual assault, certainly a potent topic on this campus.

How will we react when on Tuesday a panel examines social life and asks, "A Culture of Violence?" I'm optimistic that we have moved past Beebe's call for instant change of catastrophic proportion to a point where we can have a civil discussion examining social life at Dartmouth.

But are we really ready to ask, "How can we do better?" I can't help but hear that '96 voice in my head, cynical and sardonic. "No one listens, everyone just takes sides and yells. You silly fool, change proceeds at a snail's pace."

That '96 conscience keeps me from getting too carried away. This is still Dartmouth, after all. There is tremendous institutional inertia that cannot be ignored. But just when I think I understand how it all works, I find myself corrected. Those young whipper snappers--they keep you honest.

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