Woodward: An Effortless Response

by Aylin Woodward | 4/22/15 6:23pm

My initial reaction to yesterday’s column “Difficult to Recognize” by Michelle Gil ’16 was likely similar to most of the reactions from others who had read it — or at least everyone who’s been vocal about it on Yik Yak or shared it on Facebook in the past 24 hours. I thought to myself, “Huh. I wish I had mustered the gumption to write that column. I’m glad someone finally expressed their views in such a blunt manner on such a widely-read forum.” My remorse, however, was incredibly short-lived. At a second glance what I read horrified me, and I took it upon myself to refute it. As a senior who still bleeds green, despite everything that’s happened and despite all of the evidence Gil cites — the accurate, the inaccurate and the misconstrued — about the College’s backward evolution, I expect nothing less from myself.

There are portions of Gil’s column that ring true. The enthusiasm of students is waning, and many people, like Gil and even myself in the past, have been quick to voice their dislike for current policies. The point I’m trying to make here, however, is that it’s easy to make such complaints. It’s easy to bemoan and whine about realities — and exaggerated realities at that — that are admittedly not ideal and to demonize those we think are responsible. Gil’s column does just that — it waxes poetically on the state of things that we all already know. Her argument is built on assertions that amount to nothing more than a vaguely put, succinct list of what people don’t like. Some details simply weren’t true.

As an active participant and senior tour guide through the admissions office and head of the after-dark tours program for Dimensions, I can assure you all that the Dimensions at Dartmouth program we all loved is still very much here — the show, quite literally, goes on. The only major change from the Dimensions Show that my class year attended is that admissions no longer encourages and condones fake “prospies.” That’s it.

Yes, Dartmouth Dining Services is still overpriced and underperforming. Yes, the hard alcohol ban makes it more difficult to learn to drink responsibly. Yet at the same time, Gil points to less concrete elements without evidence — like the “potentially great strides that could have been made regarding sexual assault and high-risk drinking,” despite not explicitly stating what those possibilities could be. Gil accuses administrators of “dumping all fault at the feet of the Greek system,” yet the very fact that the system lives on disproves that claim.

Students should be better than that — better than making complaints without the information. Rather than complain that we don’t have access to all the information, we could make efforts to remedy that by trying to actually meet our supposedly evil administrators, by sitting in on a town hall meeting or going to College President Phil Hanlon’s office hours. Essentially, we should understand to the best of our abilities how this school works before we make judgments on why it’s broken.

Anyone can pen a column that is a summation of all the bad things that have happened at the College in recent years. And it will, proverbially, “sell.” It’s a popular notion, universally attractive even, to promote negativity. The far more difficult challenge is to look beyond such negativity at face value and to reflect on its validity.

We should think about whether or not things such as the loss of pledge terms or the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” policy initiatives are truly bad, and if so, understand why they happened and exactly where such actions and policies came from. After we have given it some thought, we should have the courage to put our own behavior on the stand and say, maybe, just maybe, we too are to blame for the state of things. The seeming lack of trust administrators have in us might be because we’ve done some things that warrant such a retraction of good faith. Without that critical realization — without at least the consideration of accepting some responsibility for ourselves — we will never grow past this moment as a school.

We are taught to think critically and to stand up for what we believe in here — what we know to be true and what we know to be right. I know that speaking out against Gil’s column is tantamount to paddling upstream with no boat and no oars — but I’ll do it anyway. I will stake my reputation — as a writer, as a member of the Class of 2015, as a friend and peer — on the assertion that the College is still the best college out there. Yes, it may look different from the school to which I, too, matriculated four years ago, but its core values, its intellectual worth, its moral compass have not changed. As Daniel Webster stated, “It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college. And yet there are those who love it.” Even if I’m only one of a handful of students left who think this way, I will remain one of those who love it, and I will respect the people who ensure that its spirit endures.