Verbum Ultimum: Taking a Step Back
Janet Reitman's recent article in Rolling Stone detailing fraternity culture and hazing at Dartmouth has elicited strong reactions not only from the campus community but also from alumni, parents, prospective students and readers across the country. Many members of the Dartmouth community have been quick to dismiss the article for its sensationalized and one-sided depiction of the College. We agree that Reitman's portrayal of Dartmouth is unbalanced and flawed, and we share the concerns of disgruntled students and alumni that the article selectively presents the views of a narrow cross-section of campus. We caution, however, against blindly focusing on the flaws in Reitman's portrayal to such an extent that we fail to address the uncomfortable truths that are undeniably present. While the conclusions Reitman draws about Dartmouth's culture are misguided, many of the underlying facts are unfortunately accurate.
Almost every student at Dartmouth has experienced some degree of hazing, whether through Greek organizations, student clubs, athletic teams or other groups. But despite its ubiquity, hazing has proven to be a highly polarizing issue that most students are unwilling to address head-on. In part, this reluctance may be due to the fact that hazing practices, like many aspects of Dartmouth culture, are rooted in long-held traditions, rendering them immune to change in the eyes of many students. Students may be especially uncomfortable in admitting that there is a hazing problem because it contradicts the widely held belief that Dartmouth's social system is friendly and welcoming without exception. This is an idea that is hammered home during Orientation, but the more sinister underside of our social culture stands in stark opposition to the image the student body aims to project. Students must work proactively to address our social system's shortcomings instead of creating excuses for their existence.
The College places great emphasis on maintaining its traditions in an attempt to foster a close-knit community built on shared experiences. While these traditions do serve to create a unique sense of continuity at Dartmouth, they have also served to make students complacent with potentially outdated practices and unwilling to address aspects they find unsatisfactory. Just because practices such as hazing have been around long enough to be considered a part of tradition does not mean that we have to accept them as immutable, and we as Dartmouth students have the agency to effect much-needed change.
Perpetuating dangerous traditions has great potential to hurt members of the community and the overall image of the College, as illustrated by Reitman's article. Dartmouth is currently in the national spotlight for a variety of reasons, and we hope that this increased exposure will provide the necessary impetus to re-examine hurtful practices. We can no longer afford to passively continue traditions without evaluating their merits. Now is the time to think critically about what is acceptable and what is not.