Woodward: Mend the Schism

by Aylin Woodward | 10/30/14 5:12pm

“A house divided against itself cannot stand,” our 16th President Abraham Lincoln said in 1858, an ominous preview of events to come. Right now, Dartmouth is a house divided. A house divided by animosity, a lack of understanding and a nebulous dialogue that stems from an unwillingness to engage with one another. Lately, the prevailing perception on campus is that Greek organizations and administrative committees are engaged in an arms race. It seems as though we are preparing for an inevitable civil war of our own — a war born from a lack of trust. To most it seems like the time for talking has past, but I hope that is not the case. If it is, Dartmouth is already doomed, regardless of any future reforms.

This impending conflict is easily preventable. We need to highlight mechanisms that can rebuild the bridge between vested interests through meaningful action on campus. Unfortunately, over the past four years I have definitely developed a sense of skepticism — and a perhaps cynical view of the administration. It seems as though administrators are trapped in a cycle of perpetual, and almost purposeful, misunderstanding of the forces at work at Dartmouth. For example, the proposed blanket policy on banning hard alcohol, with its emphasis on addressing the behavior of the Greek community, does not address the reality of high-risk drinking at Dartmouth. Like it or not, the data shows that around 45 percent of transports to Dick’s House or Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center are freshmen, most of whom were pre-gaming in residence halls, and will continue to do so after hard alcohol and the pre-gaming culture is pushed underground.

It’s not that I don’t trust College President Phil Hanlon’s vision or the intentions of “Moving Dartmouth Forward.” I simply do not trust that the steering committee is actually engaging in a meaningful conversation with the student body or considering calls for change that seek recourse in a direction other than diminishing Greek life. My experiences with its members thus far have been far from satisfactory — I get the feeling that these meetings with student groups are a perfunctory formality. I am not sure they are actually listening, and that state of affairs is simply unsustainable.

Talking behind closed doors needs to stop. Not only are many students and administrators at cross-purposes, but they now seem to be speaking different languages. Schisms have formed within the student body and alumni. We must re-institute the inherent trust students have for the greater system and for administrators, but we must first fix the information pathway between involved parties. We need to figure out a way to connect the right people to the right information. Administrators should allow more students to have a public role in facilitating the spread of ideas so that we can rebuild a sense of collective trust. They could do this through having more students from diverse backgrounds on the steering committee and by rotating the membership each term. These ideas should also be legitimately accounted for and incorporated into “Moving Dartmouth Forward” assessments, which should be continuously updated on an accessible public forum with public comments — perhaps on a site that is more visible and interactive, like Improve Dartmouth.

When people say “Dartmouth has a problem!” over and over and over again, it’s like waves crashing against a lighthouse — each wave makes little difference on its own, but over time those hundreds of relentless waves wear away the lighthouse’s foundation, its structural integrity. Every time a student, a newspaper article or an administrator asserts that the Greek system has a problem — but offers no real solutions — they are like one of those waves. Incessant, unstoppable, destructive. But the reality is, waves breaking on rocks cannot speak to one another. They certainly can’t speak to the lighthouse. We cannot rebuild a house divided without first fixing the conversations within it. So let us not be ships passing each other in a cold, dark storm of change — all we have to do is light the lantern of constructive dialogue, and together we can sail into the safe port of stability.