Gil: What Dartmouth Does Teach Me

by Michelle Gil | 5/20/15 6:05pm

For all of the dissatisfaction I might be feeling toward administrators, one thing I cannot deny is that the quality of academics at the College is phenomenal. My classes, along with the overall community here on campus, have taught me a tremendous amount. Thus, I cannot endorse the “What Dartmouth Doesn’t Teach Me” campaign, for I believe its message to be misleading and untrue.

I am not commenting on the overall argument that a specific Asian-American ethnic and cultural studies program should be created — rather, I argue that the campaign is flawed and does not give due credit to the professors, students and overall Dartmouth community. It’s unreasonable to expect every topic to be taught as a course. Moreover, much of the knowledge learned during one’s time here is gained through interaction with the community at large — just because a specific topic isn’t included in a course syllabus does not mean that Dartmouth doesn’t teach it.

In my view, the topics supposedly not taught at the College, as cited by some of the signs posted on Facebook in support of the campaign, are ridiculous and obscure. Posts display such messages as, “Dartmouth doesn’t teach me about the solidarity between Asian and Mexican farm workers in the U.S.” or, “Dartmouth doesn’t teach me about intergenerational differences in Asian-American families.” There are also no courses on 15th-century Sino-Slavic relations, but I don’t consider a lack of courses on fairly esoteric subjects tantamount to institutional failure.

A few of the posts seem to be specific to the students holding the signs in the photos and not reflections of the College’s failures. A few choice selections — Dartmouth has allegedly failed to teach students “self-worth,” “how to fight microaggressions” and “how to deconstruct the poisonous hegemonies that enslave my mind.” I do not believe the College has a responsibility to offer classes on these topics. These are lessons students can learn in everyday life on campus, whether in interactions with peers and students in the classroom, speaking to friends and acquaintances at club meetings or in the dining halls or even by conversing anonymously on Bored at Baker or Yik Yak. These skills don’t get handed to you along with your diploma — part of making the transition into adult life is identifying the personal skills you want to attain and using your life experiences to hone those skills.

Unfortunately, limited word count precludes my refuting all of the “Dartmouth doesn’t teach me” posts point by point. There are a few claims in particular, however, that I would like to directly address. Dartmouth students purportedly are never taught “anything that’s not rooted in upholding white supremacy,” “the history of Asian-American discrimination and oppression in the U.S.” or “that American exceptionalism is a myth,” nor do we learn about “the sexualization of Asian-American bodies” and “deconstructing Islamophobia.” I can say that, without a doubt, I have learned about each and every one of these topics in classes offered by the College. While these topics may not have been the primary focus, I have certainly picked up a fair amount of knowledge in various government, history, geography and women’s and gender studies classes that I have taken in my three years. A small sampling of these classes includes “Feminism in Islam and Modernity in the Muslim World,” “U.S. Foreign Policy” and “Geopolitics of Third World Development.”

Some of the posts cite topics that are not esoteric, personal or even immediately apparent in any class syllabi, such as eastern philosophy or immigration and labor patterns of Asian persons. While there may not be classes dedicated exclusively to those subjects, I would expect that they are discussed to some degree in various other courses. The Dartmouth to which they refer, though, is not just about classes. The College doesn’t just teach us what is written in formal lesson plans. There is valuable knowledge to be gained beyond our syllabi. Dartmouth is also about clubs, programming and interactions with your peers and professors inside and outside the classroom. So while the College may not ostensibly be teaching students about these topics, it indeed offers me — and anyone else willing to listen — the opportunity to discover ideas and skills beyond those listed in the course catalogue.