Take Me Back to Freshman Fall

by Iris Liu | 11/8/12 11:00pm

From academics and extracurricular activities to dining preferences and exercise options (if any at all), Dartmouth students tend to be extremely divided in their interests. Once upon a time, however, these camps all started off as one colossal 'shmob of all 'shmobs a time when we made daily pilgrimages to FoCo with the entire Choates cluster, pregamed practically every event except classes (and maybe even a couple of those, too) and introduced and reintroduced ourselves to every other person we met. You know what I'm talking about: freshman fall.

While many attribute freshman fall antics to an age of embarrassing naivety, Eric Wu '13 said that the overzealous freshman mentality is one that is not only unique, but also essential to adjusting to Dartmouth life. While in retrospect, his expectations coming into the fall were "idealized," Wu said he appreciated the eagerness to experiment and meet new people that he found in his fellow classmates.

Hilary Campbell '14 associated her positive freshman fall experience with her supportive freshman floor, as well as the excitement of experiencing the College for the first time.

"I was definitely way too sure of myself during freshman fall," Campbell said. "I had major reality checks as the year went on, but at the time, I was so excited and open-minded to everything."

As the initial thrill of finally being at Dartmouth wears off, many students fall into a routine and take Dartmouth for granted, according to Nish Ravichandran '15. However, even amidst the fall excitement, Ravichandran said his high personal and external expectations often morphed into feelings of self-doubt.

"Especially during freshman fall, everyone has nights where you just feel like you're not good enough," Ravichandran said. "You just have to pick yourself up out of your rut and remind yourself of what's important."

Despite difficult transitions, freshman fall is often viewed as the age of happy-go-lucky adventures a time in which we truly believed that all that glitters is gold.

Michael Zischke '77 said that over time, people become less "infatuated" with Dartmouth and much more vocal and critical about certain parts of the College.

Coming from a coeducational public high school, Elizabeth Kadin '77 said she was unaccustomed to the gender politics at the College, which had adopted coeducation only the previous year.

"I never gave any thought to the fact that it would be weird to be a woman in a school that had just gone coed," Kadin said. "It just never occurred to me."

During her freshman fall in 1973, the ratio of women to men at the College was 1:10, she said. While most students seemed to support coeducation, there was a "vocal minority" that rebelled against the change, she said.

"In one of Thayer's dining rooms, men would rank women on placards on a scale of one to 10," Kadin said. "It was uncomfortable and very condescending."

Changes in the College's gender and racial demographic heightened tensions among students, according to Zischke. He said that transitioning into such a charged atmosphere for his first term at college was awkward and politicized social life.

While Kadin initially struggled to adjust to the hostile environment, in retrospect, she said this challenge allowed her to grow stronger.

"I became more sure over the years that Dartmouth women really do belong here," she said. "At Dartmouth, you just have to find your niche and the things that really strike a chord with you."

Zischke and several of his freshman floormates found that joining a fraternity strengthened their friendship. Now as an alumnus, he said he generally tends to keep in touch with friends from his fraternity more than with other friends.

Although Campbell and her freshman floor joined different Greek houses during their sophomore year, she credits their enduring friendship to not losing sight of themselves amidst these changes.

"The person you are freshman fall is not the same person senior fall," Wu said. "As the idea of you changes, different aspects of your personality attract different people."

While recent classes' fond fall memories include running around the bonfire and being heckled by upperclassmen, the tradition was quite different in Zischke's time. Because the bonfire was much taller and less sturdy, it would collapse in on itself while burning. As a result, nobody ran around the fire or even thought about trying to touch it.

Even with two generations of such Dartmouth stories and experiences behind her, Jessica Zischke '16, Michael Zischke's daughter, said that freshman fall "blew her expectations out of the water."

"All of the members of my family here have had very different experiences, which really reflects that the Dartmouth experience is yours to shape," she said.

Whether you look back upon this time with pride, shame, nostalgia or perhaps all of the above, freshman fall is the Renaissance of facetiming, sucking at pong (and essentially everything) and ultimately finding your niche in the place you will call home for the next four years.

Jessica Zischke is a member of The Dartmouth Staff.