A Community of People

by Anne Sosin | 11/16/99 6:00am

Since the announcement of the Trustee Initiative last February, the dialogue and events at Dartmouth surrounding its discussion have been pervaded by a malignant attitude of "Us vs. Them." As Dartmouth awaits the announcement of the plans for changes in the current residential system and social organizations on campus, we face the greater problem of how we define ourselves as a community and interact within it.

In his column last Thursday, Liam Kuhn asserts that the discussion over the Trustee Initiative has been "little more than a street fight," thus ignoring the months of committee meetings, forums, and student activity on campus over the past four terms. In doing so, Kuhn illuminates why the current social system at Dartmouth has much to be improved upon.

We are not attempting to dismiss the numerous benefits house members receive from their involvement in the Greek system or to disregard the contributions the system makes to the campus as a whole. Rather, we are deeply troubled by the unconstructive manner and lack of respect in which students have chosen to voice their opinions on the possibilities for change.

Kuhn suggests that Greeks, regardless of the length of their affiliation or their outside involvement on campus, are automatically more qualified to talk about social interaction at Dartmouth than independents simply because they are part of a large pro-Greek majority. Whether unaffiliated students choose not to join a house for lack of interest or for opposition to its existence, they are not unfamiliar with the Greek system or unqualified to discuss its role on campus.

The five students criticized by Kuhn have given innumerable hours of their time in various capacities to improve the quality of life at Dartmouth. How can students who, among their many contributions to this campus have served as the president of the DOC, established a leadership program for women, reserved an hour every day for student office hours, and spent hours in meetings and forums be "blind" to what happens at Dartmouth? How can students so committed to the College not have its best interests at heart? Yet, we not only collectively dismiss their ideas but condone malicious personal attacks directed their way.

Small as the support for them may be, the opinions of the minority do count and do need to be heard. Regardless of the stance or the size of the anti-Greek minority, it has indisputably broadened the scope of the discussion and offered many ideas worthy of consideration. A dialogue cannot be productive if the ideas of its participants are considered based on the number of their supporters rather than on their merits.

Ostracizing and alienating students on this campus who dissent from the opinions of the majority only corroborates the problems addressed by the Initiative. No student should be forced to compromise his or her own Dartmouth experience while working to improve the collective experience. We may be passionate in our arguments and fervent in expressing them, but hate mail and personal slander are never acceptable forms of disagreement.

The forthcoming plan will inevitably provide a design and the financial resources to change residential and social life at Dartmouth, but it will not automatically engender a sense of community. The responsibility for change on campus rests not on the Trustees to implement a majority-approved plan, but on all of us to redefine ourselves as a collective unit. A body of individuals unable to recognize and to respect the voices of all its members will not become a community with any sum of money. Ultimately, our experiences at Dartmouth will be improved only when we recognize that we are a community not of houses but of people.