Admissions office confronts conservative stereotype

by Vivian Chung | 10/22/03 5:00am

When Alexandra Giese, a prospective '08, told a good friend of hers at Brown that she intended to apply to Dartmouth, her friend's immediate response was simple: "Eww, Dartmouth's really conservative."

Karl Furstenberg, Dartmouth's dean of admissions, acknowledged that many prospective students, like Giese's friend, do view the school as highly conservative, although he thought that the campus has changed greatly.

He maintained, though, that the persistence of this stereotype rarely prevents applicants with more liberal views from applying.

Several current students who were concerned about the political climate on campus before applying also saw a clear contrast between Dartmouth's reputation and reality.

Furstenberg likewise believes that the conservative stereotype has faded. While Dartmouth is still seen as more "politically conservative than the other Ivies," its image is rapidly changing, Furstenberg said.He estimated that campus is probably 80 percent around the middle ground leaning toward the left.

Many students find out about stereotypes of Dartmouth from their parents who went to college in the 1970s and 1980s, he said.

Furstenberg mentioned in particular several controversies stirred up by The Dartmouth Review, a conservative publication, which brought Dartmouth national media attention in the 1980s and 1990s.

He also pointed to many college guides that present Dartmouth as a "bastion of conservatism."While some such college guides have pointed out that Dartmouth is slowly becoming more diverse and progressive, they only reconfirm Dartmouth's older reputation.

"Stereotypes take a long time to get rid of," Furstenberg said, but he is optimistic about the future.

The admissions office does not address politics in its printed material or website. They also do not actively work to dispel the myth that the campus is conservative, Furstenberg said.

Furstenberg believes in presenting all positive aspects of Dartmouth and letting "people draw their own conclusion."

Despite the prevalence of these preconceptions, Furstenberg said most students mainly ask questions regarding academic programs and opportunities at Dartmouth.

He also said that Dartmouth's isolated location tends to be applicants' biggest concern.

A current tour guide also said that it was rare for prospies to inquire about the political climate here.

Daniel Shivapour '05, who served as the tour guide program co-ordinator this summer, found that some questions would arise when the tours passed by the Rockefeller Center. Prospies are most concerned about "finding their niche," Dan said.

Since there is no tour guiding script for the program, tour guides are free to speak from their own experiences. When asked, Shivapour himself speaks about the balance between the different political perspectives on campus, groups with political affliations and the different publications.

Many current and prospective students claimed that campus visits changed their views of the political climate at Dartmouth -- whether positively or negatively.

Katie Greenwood '04, a well-known critic of the Greek system, reported meeting "many nice -- meaning liberal" students during her campus visit.

And two prospective students who visited as recently as last week reported not noticing an overwhelming leaning to either side of the political spectrum.

But the same contrast many see between Dartmouth's reputation and reality means that some students who come expecting a strong right-wing community are disappointed.

Michael Ellis '06, publisher of The Dartmouth Review and vice chair of the students for Bush campaign, found this seeming tilt to the left an "unpleasant mild surprise."

Before arriving at campus, Ellis had heard of Dartmouth's reputation as a conservative campus and had been glad he wouldn't feel alone.

While he had nonetheless not expected "too much conservatism," he arrived on campus to find that Dartmouth was more liberal than he imagined. He was also disappointed with the administration for "catering to the demand of leftist groups on campus."

Despite her friend's remarks, Giese nonetheless said that the campus's political climate isn't "obvious to a visitor." She still plans to apply early decision.