Seven '01 women share college experiences

by Victoria McGrane | 5/24/01 5:00am

The posters around campus advertised seven Dartmouth women, seven experiences. At last night's annual "Will the Women of Dartmouth Please Stand Up" in Lowe auditorium, seven Dartmouth '01 women shared a variety of stories, some serious, some hilarious. They talked about the their sexuality, their sororities, their classes, their triumphs and their failures.

Yet one common thread ran through all the testimony of these very different women: A message of strength, of overcoming the difficulties of life at Dartmouth and life in general, with every panelist offering words of wisdom to the women and men who still have time left at the College.

As she talked about what Dartmouth has meant to her, Leah Threatte '01 recalled some advice she received from during her first acting experience.

"[The director] told us to get up every morning and say to ourselves, 'No one will ever believe that I'm the person I used to be,'" she recalled. "Which is kind of how I feel where I'm at right now."

Threatte told how when she came to Dartmouth she felt a lack of confidence in herself and in her race. Yet a turning point for her was when she got involved in cultural issues on campus.

"Being involved in the [African American Society] and a black sorority was wonderful because it gave me a starting point to center myself," she said. Her experience helped her figure out what part of her personality related to her cultural pride, and what part is part of her, she said.

When she returned to Dartmouth after spending a term in South Africa, then, Threatte said she "did everything I could to move out of those circles I had been in, and to be with people, and know as many people as I could."

"I've learned so much here that I couldn't have learned anywhere else," she said.

"Although it's not always easy, it's possible," she said about life at Dartmouth. "You don't have to come out of here beaten, even though you've been hit."

"My dad always told me, 'Caroline, get involved in the life of the school,'" Caroline Kovas '01 began. She went on to describe how she followed that advice, throwing herself into a plethora of activities while at boarding school, and "slowly forgetting what it was like to relax."

When her father died of brain cancer her senior fall of high school, although devastated, Kovas said she "never skipped a beat."

"I worked my ass off all the way to Dartmouth," she said. And when she got to Dartmouth, she again involved herself, joining an a cappella group, the Dartmouth Outing Club and involving herself in other commitments.

"I had to schedule in friends," she exclaimed.

It was not until Winter term senior year, Kovas said that she realized her love for her activities had in fact displaced love for herself.

"I had never given myself ample time to really think about my dad or the person I was becoming," she said, adding that as hard as it was, she drastically cut down on her activities this term to give "lots of time for me."

Lindsay MacIndoe '01 also spoke of a painful side of her time at Dartmouth. Although she entered the college confident and felt fulfilled her freshman year, a sexual experience with a woman left her questioning her identity, eventually leading her to depression and bulimia.

"I think sexuality is kind of like a pillar on which your identity is based," she said. "And when that starts to shake, everything else starts to shake."

Being on her own junior fall in San Francisco was a turning point for her, she said. MacIndoe said that living by herself forced her to deal herself every day. Although she was still depressed and struggling with her eating disorder, she sought counseling and "figured out how to be my own friend again."

Barrett Hightower '01 shared her own experience as a lesbian woman at Dartmouth. Coming out her freshman spring coupled with her sense of failure for quitting Varsity field hockey, Barrett said her "confidence was rocked." To compensate, she developed a tough exterior.

"If you come across as strong, people won't mess with you," she said. "People will also not be able to get close to you."

Hightower's "second Dartmouth" began in Uganda, Africa where she spent her junior fall, an experience which "taught me how to cry," she said.

And although she said she was not sure if she is "emerging triumphant," she does know that she is strong.

Darby Green '01 humorously recounted a freshman year that left her feeling like a failure. For while she was a "big fish in a small pond" in high school, excelling at everything, at Dartmouth she found herself excluded from the activities she had once participated in and not doing so well in her premed classes.

On her first test at Dartmouth, in Introduction to Neuroscience, she got a 47, she recalled. "And it wasn't out of 50."

But Green's overall message was a positive one. For through her experiences on her FSP, as Vice President of her sorority, and as a member of Hanover Crew for DOC trips, she found a niche for herself.

"I have a theory about Dartmouth," Mindy Chokalingam '01 told the audience. "It's that you're stupid until your junior year."

For Chokalingam, junior year awakened her to the politics of Dartmouth, partly through her comic strip, "Badly Drawn Girl," which she began drawing that year.

She said she started writing in the cartoon about things like fraternity culture, and she started getting emails, both positive and negative, "but mostly negative."

Another political realization her Dartmouth experience gave her, Chokalingam said, was that to be a minority on this campus is to be political. She said this can be found even in little things. Such as when she was asked freshman year where she was from, and she answered Massachusetts, the other person would ask, 'But no, where are you from originally.'

"But then you realize what they're asking is 'You're brown, and we want an explanation.'"

Chokalingam, also showing a wonderful sense of humor, did not express bitterness. She said that it was better for people to be curious than not at all, but that feeling like a minority was something she had not experienced before Dartmouth.

Although in her introduction, she said she wasn't sure if she was going to miss Dartmouth at all, when it came her turn to speak, Sope Ogunyemi '01 agreed with the sentiment that she had done amazing things during her four years.

"I love talking to people," she said, qualifying that talking as one of the most important aspects of her Dartmouth experience. "People see different things, no one sees them the way I see them." Sope said that she has tried to incorporate what others have told her into trying to understand the reasons she thinks the ways she does.

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