Dinner with the Dean

by Sam Stein | 11/22/02 6:00am

Over the past two years there have been myriad constants at Dartmouth. For instance: DOC Trips will determine your first-year friendships, girl's fro-yo addiction will spread faster than most STDs, complaints will be made by various op-ed writers and dinners will be held every Tuesday night at Dean of the Tucker Foundation Stuart Lord's house. It's been this way, every week, for the last two years, and it should be this way for a long time to come.

I found myself sitting in the luxurious dinning room of the Lord estate, thinking about how unique and fantastic a situation I was truly in. Stuffed with sharp Vermont aged cheddar cheese and those butterfly-like crackers, conversation began amongst the nine other students who would be accompanying the dean for dinner. For a moment I felt like a vintage bourgeois Ivy League student, a kid hanging out at a "hahvahd" bar, an eager intellect waiting to demonstrate my knowledge most vociferously. This lasted for a brief moment.

The group was summoned for dinner: an arrangement of greens, lemon-peppered chicken, rice, steamed broccoli and all the rolls you could eat. The dean sat at the head of the table and made us introduce ourselves. After the introductions were through, the education began. Lord, in a very systematic and subtle manner, transformed a group of 10 Ivy League students into a miniature think-tank. Within several minutes, we experienced a pleasant change from our normally academically driven lives.

To understand this, we must look a bit at the history of the "Tucker dialogues." The Tucker dialogues were designed to give students the opportunity to have good food and great discussion with the dean of the Tucker Foundation. The conversations are centered around general social/campus concerns, with the focus being on racial and/or ethnic issues specifically at Dartmouth. Over the course of two years, more than 600 students have had dinner on Tuesday nights with Lord. His house has come to symbolize the zenith of faculty-student relationships -- where no topic is taboo, no issue too insignificant to broach. The focus of conversation during our dinner was how to rid Dartmouth of its exclusivity. More specifically, what reforms could be made to help erase social boundaries that seem to occur on the margins of race and ethnicity.

It was during the discussion of such reforms that I came to the realization that what I was doing at Lord's household was both the paradox and the ultimate goal of my time at Dartmouth. During my two years at Dartmouth, I have studied literature, explored history, solved theorems, written research papers and even learned tribal dances. Rarely, though, have I ever attempted to put my knowledge to practical use. Sure I have volunteered my time, done good deeds, even helped a friend with homework once, but hardly ever have I put my expertise to practice. My studies have been more about accumulation and less about implementation.

At Lord's house, the 10 of us conversed for about 15 minutes on the subject of racial identity and exclusivity at Dartmouth. The basic points were brought up: students intentionally segregate themselves in social settings, fraternities and athletic teams play an essential role in this, et cetera. After those 15 minutes, but without a noticeable interruption in the conversation, our group of 10 had begun brainstorming solutions to the problem. Some solutions were good, others not so much good as terrible (but I kept my criticism quiet). Then we came across the most basic of solutions. The reform was this: two tables in Food Court would be set aside so that people who wanted to meet new people could have this opportunity. There would be no rules, regulations or stipulations of any kind. No diversity campaign advertised all over the school. Just two tables, marked by green tableclothes, meant for people to sit down, eat and meet others. There were concerns about the financial burden such a reform might place on the College, but we all agreed it should be done. Sitting over the elongated dinning room table, the 10 of us had put our minds ($160,000 plus apiece) together and come up with something so basic, pure and simple, it seemed absurd that it had never been tried before.

Dean Lord's house demonstrated that there are greater things to do at this College than memorizing information -- that we can use what we know for a more constructive purpose. And if our reform fails well there's always next Tuesday at the dean's house.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!