Blabberforce takes Dartmouth's brand into own hands

by Kaitlin Bell | 8/4/03 5:00am

Its name sounds like the kind of sarcastic epithet critics might concoct. But members of the Blabberforce, an informal collection of students and administrators intent on creating a more definable image for Dartmouth, describe their efforts with the sincerity and idealism that they say only befits a school this impressive.

The question of Dartmouth's image has been a recurring debate in the College's history -- whether it be discussing the extent to which the 1970s slapstick film "Animal House" accurately represents the school or sparring over whether the College's administration wants to emphasize Dartmouth as a research, rather than a so-called teaching, institution.

But the Blabberforce, which after less than a term in existence boasts nearly 90 members, including top administrators, says that pinning down a coherent image is the first step -- and that its primary concern is celebrating what makes Dartmouth great, rather turning it into an imitation of the more well-known Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

"The Blabberforce isn't here to transform the College into a university," member Brent Reidy '05 said. "It's here to tell Dartmouth's story."

That story, group founder Kabir Sehgal '05 said, consists of letting the rest of the world know about "the best kept secret in New England."

Sehgal, who is a member of The Dartmouth staff, said he conceived of the idea while interviewing prominent U.S. CEOs for a research project last term. What he found convinced him of the need to define and spread Dartmouth's brand, he said.

"These are people that should be in the know," Sehgal said. "But they said things like, 'Oh wait, is that in the Ivy League?' and, 'Oh is that that school up in the boonies?'"

Group members were vague about the organization's specific plans, but said that anything that gets Dartmouth's name out beyond the confines of Hanover and advertises the College's excellence is a positive thing. They are currently compiling students' accounts of their favorite aspects of the Dartmouth, which they hope to distribute eventually, possibly via the medium of BlitzMail.

Enlisting the help of the administration is vital to the success of the project, Sehgal said, adding that students criticizing the administrative vision is counterproductive.

Dartmouth President James Wright, Provost Barry Scherr, and Dean of the College James Larimore have all expressed interest in the group and its aims, Sehgal said.

But detractors of the group said that rather than improving Dartmouth's image, the Blabberforce makes the College come across as self-conscious and petty.

"I'm not sitting around pondering the existential questions of whether Dartmouth has enough prestige," critic Joe Rago '05 said.

Having administrators do just this does not lend the movement credence, either, he said. Rather, it is disheartening that the administration fails to recognize the College's current merits, including being the premier undergraduate institution in the country and one that is fundamentally -- and rightly -- distinct from Harvard, Yale and Princeton, Rago added.

But Blabberforce members said that it is these schools' prestige and name recognition that they want to emulate, not their actual characters. And if Dartmouth is losing students to these other Ivies, it is not because of its inferiority, but merely that many have never heard of the College.

"People go to Harvard, Yale and Princeton because that's what's reinforced in the media," Reidy said. "If more people knew about what Dartmouth is, then maybe those statistics would change."

But Rago questioned the importance of having such brand-conscious students at Dartmouth in the first place.

"The kind of student that would apply to a school because of prestige wouldn't come to Dartmouth," he said.