'Men of Dartmouth' draws large crowd

by Emma Fidel | 11/19/08 5:15am

Seven undergraduate men discuss their life experiences at the
by Marina Agapakis / The Dartmouth

The event featured six members of the Class of 2009 -- Tiger '09, Ruslan '09, Kevin l'09, Milan l'09, Schuyler '09 and Andrew '09 -- and Brendan '10, a former United States Marine who is currently on medical leave from the College. Last names have been withheld due to the personal nature of the event.

Brendan, the panel's final speaker, recounted his experiences prior to coming to Dartmouth, specifically focusing on the absence of his father throughout his childhood and his decision to join the U.S. Marine Corps following the Sept. 11 attacks. Brendan is part of the first class to participate in the American Council on Education's program for seriously injured veterans, an initiative spearheaded by College President James Wright.

As a Marine, Brendan spent several months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center after being administered a contaminated vaccine that began to shut down his internal systems. Brendan has since undergone intense testing and physical therapy in response to the vaccine's effects, which continue to ravage his organs, he said.

Brendan now works as an advocate for veterans in Washington, D.C., and is a co-founder of Student Veterans of America, a national nonprofit representing student veterans on over 200 campuses across the country. He is also a founding member of the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association.

Brendan closed the evening by defining what being a man means to him.

"Being an all-state football player doesn't make me a man. Being a marine doesn't make me a man," he said. "Being in a fraternity doesn't make you a man. Self-reflection, realizing your strengths, integrity of self -- these things make a man. And all you frat guys, listen up -- treating women with respect and dignity makes you a man. Being able to put yourself in a larger context makes you a man. After all of this, I'm glad I'm able to say I've become a man."

Tiger, a transsexual man, discussed his struggles with gender identity and offered criticism of Dartmouth's culture. He also commented on his positive experience in The Tabard coed fraternity.

Tiger described himself as a person who has difficulty showing emotion, but retold in detail his experience with therapy and his bouts of depression and paranoia.

"Fear drives me in a lot of ways," he said. "Fear sort of soothes me, because I don't want to succumb to it at all. I know that one is never really in control of anything."

He spoke candidly about his gender-related therapy, explaining how conflicted he felt when he first arrived at Dartmouth.

"I'm coming in as butch? Dyke? Whatever? I couldn't even use third person pronouns at all," he said.

Tiger encouraged the audience to seek meaningful interactions while at Dartmouth.

"In a place like Dartmouth, in an environment in which you're given a couple thousand of people who you could potentially interact with, you should probably do that," he said. "There should be nothing wrong with being up-front and honest, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable."

Ruslan described his childhood in Russia, where he divided his time between Moscow and the war-torn Chechen Republic. He also told the story of learning of his grandfather's death three years after the fact.

"My entire family had kept my grandfather's death a secret from my mother because they knew that she would go back [to Chechnya] and bring me with her," he said. "That wasn't an option. I am the future, not just for them, but for Chechnya and my people."

Ruslan explained that the turmoil of his childhood still motivates him to succeed and informs how he has become a man. Though his story is unique in many ways, he said, he believes that everyone in the audience has an equally important story.

"If you change the setting, and replace the physical war I've experienced with the internal battles that many of us face, then [my story] might not be too different from yours," he said.

Kevin recalled the difficulties of his parents' divorce and his experience with his mother's abusive boyfriend. He included a story about his behavior after his mother's boyfriend attempted to kill her.

"I went to his house and politely told him that I didn't appreciate what he was doing," he said. "Then, I took a bat and destroyed most of his living room. In a way it sounds cool, like 'Oh, I stood up for my family,' but it was a low point."

Kevin went on to describe his struggles during his freshman year in college, when one of his best friends died in a car accident. He explained that though his friend's death and his mother's relationship seemed insurmountable at the time, the experiences shaped his personal development.

Milan spoke about his three-year period of stress and growth when a woman from his home in Alabama falsely told him he was the father of her child.

"It really put into perspective who I am, and what it is for me to be a man, and that's responsibility for my actions, and knowing when to ask for help," he said. "You're not supposed to do everything by yourself."

Milan told the audience that he had never before talked so openly about the emotional turbulence the woman's claims caused him.

"This is the first time I've actually told anybody about all of this," he said. "I feel so much better for it."

The other two panelists, Schuyler and Andrew, both emphasized their families' struggles with alcoholism and discussed their own decisions to abstain from drinking.

Schuyler, who says he has found strength in being a member of Native Americans at Dartmouth, also discussed his growing disillusionment with the College, saying that he is unable to modify his engineering major with Native American studies.

Andrew spoke about becoming a man in the context of his father's battle with cancer and his own Catholic faith.

"My father left me with the idea of something that is vital to being a man, and that's character," he said. "He used to say to me 'Andrew, character is connecting what you believe in with what you do.' Carry your head high, that's leadership, that's becoming a man. It's been a wonderful and terrible experience for me."