Green: Breaking Our Boxes
I am a profiler, and I’m the first to admit it. With the tailor-made boxes so many of us find ourselves falling into at Dartmouth, it’s all too easy to define and be defined only by appearances. In my experience, we inevitably make superficial judgments of people, describing them not by their interests but by their affiliations, majors or some other classification systems — things that don’t really speak to who they are as people. I often only get to know people in a very cursory way before making a decision about who they are and what kind of relationship we will have. In our community, which is composed of many small groups, it often feels impossible to keep things like clothing, teams, classes or Greek houses from coloring the perceptions of those we meet. But we must collectively fight this reflex and break the habit of social stereotyping.
Before I worked as a Crooling on Dartmouth Outing Club first-year trips, I didn’t even realize the extent to which I profiled people. When I first met other students, I wouldn’t interact with them as individuals, but rather as dependable likenesses to whatever identity I had assigned them in my mind. But no one arrived at Dartmouth a Kappa or a Chubber. Every single student came to Dartmouth with his or her own identity, different from every other person, group or activity he or she now associates with. This isn’t a very novel observation; it shouldn’t have taken me interacting with people outside of these collective identities to realize that their individual identities are far more important. But it did.
The question, of course, is why? Why was it so hard for me to realize the extent to which the Dartmouth community as a whole — and I, in particular — fails to interact on an individual level with people we meet? It’s a coping mechanism. We fall into our own boxes and routines, becoming all too comfortable with our small circles. So comfortable, in fact, that we don’t see the necessity of stepping outside of these boxes ourselves. In order to see an individual and not a box, you have to step out of your own box, too.
So much hype surrounds “finding your place” at Dartmouth that I think as a community we start to believe it. It’s when we think that we share the same “place” at Dartmouth as a finite group of people, and that other people are in different “places” and our “places” will never overlap, that we also forget to see people as individuals.
On trips, I was outside of my own box, interacting with upperclassmen stripped of their house letters and freshmen who had not had the chance to settle into whichever “box” they might one day fill on campus. I spent three-and-a-half weeks meeting people as they actually are.
Most of my freshman year, I robbed myself of the opportunity to meaningfully interact with many of the inspirational personalities I sat in class with or walked by every single day. When I came back to campus this fall, I was determined not to make the same mistake. I have made friends with people I never would have expected to, and some of the people who superficially seemed very different have ended up having just as much in common with me as my close friends.
At Dartmouth, we can’t help but identify ourselves and others based on a set of superficial constructs, simply because of how many different clubs and associations exist on campus. But breaking out of those constructs to interact with people is truly liberating. We are all so much more than the sum of things we associate with and identify as at Dartmouth. Give yourself the chance to love or hate people for who they actually are, not for what box they seem to fit into. You never know where your soul mate — or arch enemy — may be hiding.