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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Class Day Speakers Should Reflect the Diversity of Experience at Dartmouth

In two and a half weeks, over a thousand '97s plus a few assorted relics from classes of yore will walk up to that structure being built on the Green, receive our diplomas, shake the hand of the Finnish Prime Minister, and then venture out into the world. The day before that big event, we'll all gather together for Class Day on the Bema to fondly remember our Dartmouth experience, bond over our common memories and have one great collective laugh/cry.

Or, at least, that's the way the story's supposed to go.

Just wanted to catch those of us who may have lapsed into a green daze and forgotten for a split second that there is no "common Dartmouth experience." Like it or not, for better or for worse, Dartmouth undergraduates are not part of a singular community. For most of us, our primary allegiance and identifier while we are here is as members of a smaller communities, whether they be African-American, Greek, women's, Asian-American, gay, international, athletic, Jewish, Latino, lesbian, Native American or part of any other spectrum and/or combination of those.

Different groups of people face varying issues at Dartmouth; there is no one common experience that binds us all together. Moreover, we live in a society that remains polarized along racial lines, and race continues to be one of the major markers of separate communities at Dartmouth. Lines and boundaries often blur, but nonetheless, a division remains. And, the voices of students of color are on the periphery on this campus.

For that reason, I was angry to learn that all the "historians" of our class are white. The four students who were chosen as the privileged few to relay the history of our class on Class Day are funny, and I'm sure they will make us laugh in a couple of weeks.

But, while they come from different areas of the Dartmouth campus, none of them are active participants in communities of color or the gay, lesbian and bisexual community. As hard as our historians may try, these are not perspectives they can represent. It seems that, in an effort to bring us all together, some experiences become erased, certain histories go untold.

The history of our class is not one of complete peace and harmony. Our time at Dartmouth has been marked by certain events that have had serious impacts on specific communities. Flyers were put up our sophomore year calling a meeting to discuss a plan to "kill all faggots," Asian-American students had racial epithets written on their door in two separate incidents last year, Native Americans were severely degraded by a poem read at a fraternity our sophomore summer and these are only a few of many stories of discrimination students can tell.

That doesn't mean that our historians should recount racist and homophobic experience after experience. None of us would want that. But, many of the students who have struggled against prejudice and oppression at Dartmouth are among the most funny people here. Humor can become a means of survival for marginalized groups and a way to face extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Without including any of these students, what type of humor are we recognizing as valuable? How is the history of our class being told?

And not only are our historians all white, but, except for our class president, so are all the other students speaking at the event. Although students of color now account for over one-quarter of the undergraduate population here, the racial make-up of the platform will not be much different than it would have been fifty years ago. Undoubtedly, many parents of students of color will see this as yet another confirmation that their children's school does not respect and value their diverse experiences and history.

The group chosen as our class marshals is much more diverse, in terms of race and campus involvements, which I think is an important step. But I don't believe that remedies the situation. For, although those eight people are receiving a tremendous honor, they do not have speaking positions. So, the only people of color chosen by Senior Executive Committee to represent our class will not have the opportunity to continue to contribute to campus discourse. Although many members of marginalized communities have been among the most outspoken students, on Class Day, they will effectively be silent.

I am not writing this column in an attempt to disrespect the group of students chosen, for I understand that the people being honored at Class Day have made a serious commitment to Dartmouth. But many others have too. While we recognize some, let us not forget all those voices that will go unheard at this prominent event closing the Dartmouth experience for the Class of 1997.