Alt To Some, In To Many

by Mary Liza Hartong | 1/22/15 11:56pm

“Dartmouth is a party school.” It’s hard to guess how many times I heard this phrase when I was accepted to Dartmouth, but if I had to make a approximation for the sake of this article, I’d guess it was somewhere in the thousands. I heard it from snarky adults who had never been north of the Mason-Dixon line. I heard it from friends at graduation parties. I heard it from concerned elderly people in the grocery store. Sometimes I even heard it from the small, scared voice inside of my head. Nevertheless, I lugged my straight-laced, sleep-loving, decidedly sober self all the way to New Hampshire and hoped for the best.

Spoiler alert: I was just fine. Like most students at Dartmouth, I found a group of people and a way of life that fit my comfort zone. Sometimes that comfort zone meant watching “The Emperor’s New Groove” (2000) in the common room with my floormates, other times it meant heading to Webster Avenue for a dance party or watching my friends in performances at the Hopkins Center. Are there parties to be found at Dartmouth? You bet, nosy high school classmate. Is there so much more than that going on around campus? Absolutely yes, skeptical grandparent.

The finger-waggers do have a point. About 70 percent of sophomores were affiliated by the winter of 2014, the last year data is available. So there’s something to be said for Greek life having a central role on campus.

But why do the people think Greek life is the only thing here? I took a look at what many people here would call “alternative social spaces,” a phrase that, like its counterparts “alternative medicine” and “alternative lifestyle choice,” seems to have a negative connotation. Having spoken to the people who work hard to make spaces like the Hop Garage, Foley House and One Wheelock fun, I find that using the word “alternative” to define them is demeaning.

For some on campus, they are not just a second choice to the Greek system. They are not alternative social spaces — just social spaces.Panhellenic Council president Rachel Funk ’15 weighed in on why the Greek system draws so many students, noting that many Greek organizations occupy a very central location on campus.

“I think that it’s also just tradition,” she said.

In terms of referring to social spaces, Funk agreed that the word “alternative” should alternate out of our collective vocabulary. Like me, she feels that deeming one sort of space “alternative” normalizes Greek spaces, and places non-Greek spaces on the periphery.

While many people assume Greek life and other social spaces are mutually exclusive, Funk explained that many people choose to move through multiple social settings.

“I don’t see these spaces as in opposition to the Greek System,” said Funk. “I see them as equal standing organizations that I go to half the time. I don’t think every person can say that, but they are all equal aspects of the social scene.”

One of those non-Greek spaces that thrives on campus is the Dartmouth Outing Club. President Hunter van Adelsberg ’15 attributes the success of the organization to its ability to meet a simple goal — organizing trips outdoors on the cheap.

Van Adelsberg, who is also a member of a single-sex Greek house, had his own ideas about what makes the Greek system so successful, saying that he thought its longevity comes from the fact that Greek houses not only serve as social spaces, but are also residential spaces that students make their homes. He said that providing spaces where students can live and host social events would “invest these places with more of a flavor.”

If the answer to building thriving spaces lies in living with people, places like La Casa, Cutter-Shabbaz, the Triangle House and the Sustainable Living Center seem to underline that idea.

Ledyard Canoe Club member Michael Baicker ’15 agrees that a shared living space is a huge part of building a community. He said that some of the non-Greek social spaces on campus are less successful precisely because they don’t also double as spaces where students live.

“Looking at places like Sarner Underground and One Wheelock, you never see people there, and you have to wonder why you don’t,” Baicker said. “I think it boils down to the fact that they’re essentially large empty rooms that are based around programming so you’re not going to have people walking down there. If you have something like the Ledyard Club House, where you know people are living there and you know people will constantly be there you’re more likely to hang out there.”

Baicker expressed his desire for similar living and social spaces around campus, including a house for Cabin and Trail, the Dartmouth Mountaineering Club and perhaps even a Webster Avenue DOC house.

Yet, while many students agree that the atmosphere of a residential space makes it more enjoyable or comfortable for hosting social events, it’s not a unanimous sentiment among the student body.Tiffany Wang ’16, a member of Programming Board, disagrees with Baicker. She said that while places like Sarner Underground and Collis Common Ground are not living spaces, the performances and events held there represent a vibrant social scene.

“The events that we do hold have a decent showing every time and the vast majority of people who attend our events do stay and do enjoy them,” she said.

When it comes to the Greek scene, Wang believes that comparisons are inapt.

“We don’t make as many stories. You don’t hear someone say ‘Oh I sat down and watched a show for two hours’ because it’s less interactive,” she said. “It’s a different form of entertainment.”

In terms of entertainment and social activity, the Hop Garage serves as a middle ground. Kirby Spivey IV ’16, who works as a DJ for the Hop Garage, cited the organization’s flexibility as its main strength.

“They also have license to provide exactly what students and visitors are looking for, if they are looking for any alternate scene at all: an alternate social space, a less patriarchal social space and a space for dancing and/or relaxed drinking for those who legally qualify,” he said.

According to Spivey, hyping up the Hop Garage is a straightforward task.

“I honestly believe that promoting a space is as simple as spreading word of mouth and physically being there,” he said.

When it comes to forming a community, Luke Katler ’15 believes you have to start with the stomach. Katler is the undergraduate adviser at Foley House, an off-campus cooperative living community that centers on the basic idea of residents cooking for one another five nights a week.

“To break bread together is the most conducive way to get to know each other,” Katler said. “To cook for a group of people is to literally give them life. We’re supporting each other socially, but we’re also supporting each other physically.”

Foley House’s off-campus location also affects the type of resident who chooses to live there. As the building is located far from campus, students who live there typically want to get away, said Katler.

Katler, who is also a member of a single-sex Greek house, believes that living in spaces like Foley House could be very beneficial for students, and hopes that as Dartmouth builds new dorms they will create a homey feel.

“Something I like about living in Foley house better than living in a fraternity is the wooden stairs,” said Katler. “When you’re in Foley, something as small as the stairs makes it feel much more like home.”

So maybe Dartmouth is a party school. Maybe it’s a canoeing school, or a cooking school or a dancing school. The point is, don’t yuck my yum.

Hunter van Adelsberg is a former member of The Dartmouth staff.