One Dartmouth

by Rachel Gilliar | 10/26/98 6:00am

Last winter when a Star of David with the message "Death to You" was scrawled on the door of one of the River apartments, the response was a forum in the Roth Center with a huge panel of students from all walks of Dartmouth life, followed by a break-out session in smaller groups, after which we returned to the larger group to present our ideas about ending hate at Dartmouth. This was yet another well-intentioned beginning to the cycle of the campus' reaction: hysterical outcry, followed by diminished interest, followed by silence until the next incident. Another meeting was scheduled for a week later, but this time it was in 101 Collis and 20 students attended, instead of the 200 that had been at the Roth Center. Several weeks, and several more meetings came and went, and still the group dwindled. Soon, there were three of us left: Marene Jennings '98, James Gallo '99 and me.

So animus is not the only problem. The other is our predictable response, in which we orbit around the issue and then burn up when we re-enter the day-to-day grind. In pondering the dilemma, our big group of three decided that in order to dispel the antipathy on campus, we would also have to shed our habitual reply to behavior that sours our campus community.

The three of us met all through the spring and then in New York during the summer because we had a common dream. We wanted to take an idea -- One Dartmouth -- and make it a reality. Without four years of experience at Dartmouth, we would not have known it was necessary. Without four years, we would not have known it would work. It was an instinctual idea born of the Dartmouth street smarts we had acquired during our tenure on campus. We knew that increased communication among student groups would lead to increased familiarity between individual students and vice versa -- and that friendship and commonality breed a sense of true community. We also knew that, as the smallest Ivy, Dartmouth has a unique opportunity to do this, one we should not forfeit.

One Dartmouth is an umbrella organization to foster connections, to bring together students in all their variety as well as members of all types of groups on campus -- affinity, athletic, Greek, academic -- to cross-reference the projects they are working on and the issues they are discussing. It will meet twice a term because if it meets more often unnecessarily it will quickly fall apart and if it meets less frequently it will be useless.

To be able to underscore the importance of One Dartmouth, I tried to recall the moments in the past four years in which the student body rose in outrage. But these separate incidents had blurred in my mind into a mish-mash of -ism mush. Was "chink" written on a door the winter of '96 or was it the fall of '95? If it was winter, was the manure dumped on those two fraternity lawns before or after the Rally Against Hate? Which term were mud and rocks thrown at windows displaying rainbow flags? And did the Star of David and the "Death to You" message appear on two doors or was it just one? I phoned a fellow '98, someone I knew would remember.

Like two rocking-chair-bound geezers, we attempted to put these incidents, so endemic to our Dartmouth experiences, on a timeline. Discussing them naturally led where it always has: to the insufficiencies in Dartmouth student life -- the lack of an overall community (even in the face of the strength of niche communities), the disconnection, the missed opportunities and the incidents of disrespect that occur as a result. My friend, the campus' amanuensis, summed up the cycle of Dartmouth student life this way: "Dartmouth," he said, "is like watching a slasher movie."

As students, we know the obstacles we face in making positive changes at Dartmouth. We know that too many noble efforts fizzle when the point person suddenly disappears on an LSA in France ... or the two founders graduate, having failed to groom younger students to carry the standard forward. We know that many groups often address the same issues simultaneously without realizing it. We know that co-sponsoring an event does not necessarily mean that members of the donor organization will attend that event. It is much like watching the blonde, dimwitted heroine of a slasher movie: she knows she is in danger, yet she walks down the creaky steps into a dark basement or hides in the obvious closet (again), much to the dismay of the audience, who have witnessed this plot many times but have renewed horror with each sequel. When will she learn?, we ask. When will she respond appropriately to the peril?

We expect One Dartmouth will escape the metaphor. It will accomplish what generations of student activists, forums, initiatives by administrators and Social Issues nights have desired: it will build a bridge to connect dissimilar students by their similarities. In providing a planned network of students, it will mitigate against the effects of the D-Plan, which tends to stymie continuity in campus activities and the relationships between groups. It will help us recognize that our exclusivity includes each other, all of us. It will create a framework of mutual respect among all students.

In simplest terms, One Dartmouth will provide three things: a campus-wide network of students, increased social interaction between different groups of students and an established way of dealing with offenses to the Dartmouth community if and when they happen.

There is a truism at Dartmouth that, in Hanover, it takes just four years to create a tradition because that is the duration of student memory. Wouldn't it be wonderful if, four years from now, students cannot remember a time when campus-wide community did not exist, and One Dartmouth seems as much a part of Dartmouth College as the tradition of the Bonfire (100 years old), co-education (26 years old) and the Polar Bear Swim (4 years old).

All you have to do is come to the first meeting.