Is fear affecting our college experience?

by Alison Schmauch | 11/19/01 6:00am

While various current events -- both local and national -- have caused many students to experience fear or anxiety, it remains unclear whether or not these fears have altered the generally quiet, idyllic world of Hanover.

Among students and administrators, there is no consensus -- some believe that recent events have changed Dartmouth, but others claim that Dartmouth remains safe as always.

Others noted the difficulty of avoiding both hysterical reactions to current events and insensitive "under-reactions."

Advisors to various student groups have noted increased concern about safety on campus.

Amin Plaisted, advisor to Muslim students on campus, noted a rise in worries about safety immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Students' worries have abated, however, as weeks have gone by and little discrimination against Muslims has happened on campus -- little that has been made public, at least.

Plaisted does not believe that students' lack of concern indicates complacency.

Rather, Dartmouth students indicated fairly quickly that they would not show prejudice against Muslims. "It isn't a sign of complacency that students' worries have dwindled since then. It's just rational," he said.

Indeed, it seems that the longer a student has been at Dartmouth, the more he or she feels safe from harm. But for first-year students who have just arrived at Dartmouth from quite different environments, this point may not seem so clear.

Accordingly, Plaisted noted that in general, the students who were the most worried were first-year students who had recently arrived from the Middle East.

"Their ideas about America were largely based on whatever the media in their countries told them," he said.

As these students were in America longer and grew to know the Dartmouth community better, their concerns gradually subsided, according to Plaisted.

Deborah Golder, Associate Dean of Residential Life, indicated that students have shown a similar resilience when reacting to the assaults that took place last weekend.

Golder was particularly impressed with the reasoned, calm attitudes students displayed at a panel discussion run by Safety and Security in the Lodge.

"Students were asking questions and wanting to get a sense of what happened. People are not terrified, but concerned," she said.

But resilience may become insensitivity over time, a point which concerned Nora Yasumura, advisor to Asian and Asian-American students on campus.

Yasumura was more ambivalent about Dartmouth students' ability to rebound emotionally. While she admitted that students need to be able to distance themselves somewhat from upsetting current events, she said that students who are not directly affected often distance themselves too much.

"Complacency is definitely a danger," she said. "I wish that more people would consider not just what happens to them. I wish that people would see how people are very interdependent."

Some students interviewed by The Dartmouth believed that Dartmouth is more or less the same quiet, complacent place that it has always been, but others were unsure.

Janis Hui '04 took the former view. "Most students feel Hanover is safe and fairly well-protected," she said.

Brian Doyle '04 worried that Dartmouth's sense of complacency had been "shaken" to some degree by both local and national events, although he did not believe that Dartmouth has changed drastically.

Students differed, too, on the extent to which they believed local and national events have frightened Dartmouth students and/or changed campus life.

Although many male students were quick to point out that they are less worried about the assaults last weekend than are their female friends, gender alone did not account for differences in students' concerns.

"I'm a lot more concerned about worldwide affairs," said Gino Beniamino '04. "The war has much more potential to cause harm."

Hui, however, said that she was "far more concerned about what is [happening] on campus."

Doyle voiced similar sentiments. "At Dartmouth, you feel removed from national events. Local events hit home much more."