Perez: Distorting Dartmouth

by Sarah Perez | 9/24/14 5:21pm

When I arrived at Dartmouth a little over a year ago, I was clueless. Sure, I had performed well in high school, but the College was a new beast to tame. In the spirit of honesty, I’m willing to admit a few things.

As an incoming freshman, the alphabet soup of Dartmouth abbreviations perplexed me — DBA, DA$H, Robo, FoCo, blitz. I would cringe as I reached the front of the Hop grill line, unsure of whether to order a tender chicken queso or a queso chicken tender. The fairly straightforward “DBA or meal swipe” question would send shivers down my spine.

And then there were the people. Never before had I been around so many new faces. Having lived in the same neighborhood in South Florida for 18 years, all this novelty was disconcerting at times. And yet there was something uniquely exhilarating about being in a totally foreign environment. I didn’t have all the answers and I wasn’t expected to. I was given the opportunity to try and to fail, to figure things out — and most importantly, to get to know Dartmouth on my own terms.

The Dartmouth Radical and Dartmouth Action Collective’s “Disorientation Guide” robs the Class of 2018 of this formative experience, and force-feeds them a non-nuanced representation of our school and its community.

Although the guide offers some useful information for the incoming class, other sections leave much to be desired. Articles regarding classes, extracurriculars and social life are sandwiched between pages that ultimately misrepresent the College. The claim that Dartmouth is “a community full of ignorant and privileged a** white people and tokenized people of color” encapsulates the greatest pitfall of the “Disorientation Guide” — it imposes a group-specific vision of Dartmouth on an entire class.

The guide tells new students that the College suffers from a host of –isms just as they begin fall term. I do not deny that racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism exist, nor do I seek to discredit the guide’s authors or their experiences. But the Class of 2018 should be afforded the same opportunity as the 244 classes that have preceded it — they should form their own conclusions about Dartmouth through their personal experiences.

Freshmen should be allowed to experience Dartmouth the same way we all did: by learning, questioning, trying, failing, doubting and succeeding. Ultimately, the Class of 2018 should be free to define their Dartmouth without the influence of the negative judgments presented in the “Disorientation Guide.”

Although their time here has been short, the capacity of new students to improve Dartmouth is greater than those who have been here the longest. While many upperclassmen may have left their freshman enthusiasm behind with the SmartChoice 20 meal plan, the wide-eyed passion of the ’18s is (supposed to be) unsullied. Though unfortunate, it is not uncommon for students to become increasingly jaded with each passing academic year in Hanover. The more time you spend on campus, the more entrenched you become in routines and increasingly difficult academics. The busy schedule of a tired upperclassman is often not conducive to passionately fighting for change — instead, it breeds complacency. As graduation nears and the real world looms over their heads, upperclassmen are less likely to invest in positive change at the College. They settle for the Dartmouth that has become familiar to them. Unfettered by these upperclassman woes, the Class of 2018 is presently far more likely to explore, experiment and take risks to better this community. But the “Disorientation Guide” puts our new classmates on the defensive, thereby limiting their potential to constructively change campus.

Dartmouth should seem like a world of opportunities to new students, instead of a place largely beyond redemption. The negativity throughout the “Disorientation Guide” discourages freshmen from being hopeful about the prospects of a better Dartmouth, and we as community cannot afford the loss of their fresh and optimistic perspectives. We need each incoming class to push Dartmouth in new directions, but the overarching message of the “Disorientation Guide” (whether it’s intentional or not) tells freshmen that positive change at the College is futile.

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