Woodward: An Undue Burden

by Aylin Woodward | 9/18/14 8:46pm

As president of my coeducational fraternity I participated in Tuesday’s discussion regarding the reforms that we community leaders must bring to the Greek system. By the end of what seemed like a decisive 90 minutes, I left feeling immensely troubled.

I believe the majority of Greek presidents appreciate the transparent dialogue and the responsibility we are being given to change the school from the bottom up. However, I am less sure we are actually as in control of our own destinies as administrators would like us to believe, because Dartmouth is not being honest with itself about the reasoning behind the manic call for change.

Unsurprisingly, according to the assembled powers, Dartmouth has reached a pivotal tipping point. Change is imminent because the current state of affairs is inexcusable. But the message we were offered was frustrating in its irreconcilable dichotomy. On one hand, we were told to advance sweeping changes — and yet, we were constantly reminded at the meeting that the necessity for this change was largely catalyzed by concern not for the problems themselves, but for our public image.

The very nature of this burden is insurmountable. Nothing we do will ever be enough because of the critical social scrutiny we receive. My sense is that the expected magnitude, speed and inevitability of the change they are demanding make its successful execution (at least on our end) realistically out of our collective control.

It is no secret that there are those in the world of new media, whether individuals or journalistic sources, that harbor what seems to be an inexplicable and intense bias against both Dartmouth and its students. As Jennifer Wulff ’96 wrote in Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, since the Andrew Lohse-inspired Rolling Stone article came out my freshman year, Dartmouth’s plague of rampant extreme behaviors has developed into a hot button nationwide topic.

Various media outlets have flocked to feed off the wounded Dartmouth, with each subsequent article leaving our school’s pride and credibility a little more broken. Dartmouth’s failure to transcend the quagmire of (potentially well-deserved) poor publicity stems not only from the semi-existence of those destructive realities in question, but also from the administrators’ and students’ apparent inability to combat the unending flood of negativity.

Ignoring my opinions of Lohse as a writer and person, I believe that his article “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy” is the spark that eventually catalyzed what will probably be the largest overhaul of the status quo at Dartmouth since the school went coed. Maybe in the long run Lohse’s alma mater will thank him for services rendered to the school — in his own muddled quest for 15 minutes of fame, our most infamous ’12 has given us a kick in the rear.

It is just unfortunate that it took such an inflammatory threat to Dartmouth’s public image for us to reach critical mass. Dartmouth should have already begun battling its inner demons, because now we are paying the price by being forced to do so under the watchful eye of the national media. We now bear the burden of being held to an unachievable standard set by those who do not necessarily have the most accurate perceptions about Dartmouth.

This makes any and every victory henceforth seem the slightest bit contrived because the pressure behind the necessity of such radical change on campus ultimately came from outside our community. The realization that Dartmouth needed to improve its health, safety and behavioral patterns should have manifested before the value of our education and the credibility of our institution were on the line.

For better or worse, Dartmouth has harnessed its desire to mitigate our poor public image and transformed it into momentum for change. Finally, there is the idea that we need to start policing our extreme behaviors. And while I am disappointed that the genesis of that idea seems to mostly have come from trying to pacify the media, it is inarguable that Dartmouth is finally back on the right track.