Beechert: Positivity, Please

by Michael Beechert | 10/7/13 10:00pm

Criticism of Dartmouth in the press has been in vogue for the past couple of years. These media incidents, with which we are all familiar, have occurred in national publications like Rolling Stone, and in this very section of this very campus newspaper. While each author has his or her own story to tell, there seems to be a shared, basic message: "Dartmouth, thanks to Greek life, has a serious problem with racism/sexism/alcoholism/etc. and it is urgent that some sort of action must be taken."

Before I continue, and before I am accused of being some sort of traditionalist apologist for the fraternities and the myriad evils that they perpetuate at our dear institution, allow me to make a disclaimer. I am a straight, white, affluent male who happens to have various personal and philosophical concerns about the role of the Greek system on college campuses. In a choice that placed me in a minority of my sophomore peers, I did not rush this past term, and so far, I am very happy with my decision to remain unaffiliated. So while I do realize that Greek affiliation can be a positive and important experience for many people, I have no personal connection to a particular fraternity and no vested interest in defending the system as a whole.

Of course, Dartmouth has issues with the overconsumption of alcohol. Yes, a few condemnable people thought it would be funny to engage in behavior that was understandably offensive to certain groups. And most sadly, incidents of sexual assault continue to occur on this campus. Maybe the existence of a Greek system contributes to some of this, but every university has these issues. Regardless, I understand that I am in a privileged position on this campus, due to my race, gender and sexual orientation. I also realize that, because of this position, I will probably never fully understand the pain that the victims of racism, sexual assault or other forms of intolerance experience.

That being said, I am tired of the negativity, tired of the pessimism and tired of the alarmism that have characterized the press coverage of this school. While Dartmouth's various problems certainly need attention, the parties involved should be the administration, faculty and student body not The Huffington Post or Rolling Stone, or most recently, The New York Times. Perhaps for some, "going public" is the best option to try and effect change at Dartmouth. However, I fail to see the practical gains that this route can achieve. How can someone who buys a copy of Rolling Stone in San Francisco help to address the prevalence of a Greek system at a small college in New Hampshire? And in what way, exactly, can the readership of the Times help to reduce alcohol consumption in Hanover? So, is the strategy here to publicly shame Dartmouth until it is forced to act, or is the motivation, in fact, attention-seeking?

What this type of attention does precipitate, however, is the erosion of both the College's standing and the reputation of its students. The infuriating and disappointing thing about Richard Perez-Pena's article in the Times, and the other similar exposs on Dartmouth student life, is that it reduces over 4,000 people to little more than a collective body of alcohol-soaked adherents to a regressive social system. While an institution of Dartmouth's stature and history makes for an easy target, the reality is much more complicated. Dartmouth is actually, as the public would be pleased to know, largely composed of intelligent, thoughtful and perceptive students. Virtually all of us are not bigoted perpetrators of sexual assault, and while most of us choose to join Greek organizations, deciding to do so does not erase our identities as individuals. We are, therefore, more than capable of making Dartmouth a better place on our own without any help from Perez-Pena's outdated and recycled contributions. And perhaps, we would be more inclined to take such action if the public tone of negativity and disappointment with our school were replaced by one of encouragement and celebration of Dartmouth's many positive aspects.