Verbum Ultimum: Students of the World
Last January, College President Phil Hanlon announced “Moving Dartmouth Forward.” MDF aimed to cultivate a healthier campus culture through addressing issues including inclusivity, high-risk drinking and academics. The initiatives announced included a ban on all hard alcohol, a new residential housing system, a mandatory four-year sexual violence prevention program and an increased focus on academics, outlining ways to increase “academic rigor.” The latter was in response to faculty concern over the decline of intellectual pursuits at the College.
On the heels of Hanlon’s announcement, students submitted a proposal to the administration calling for the establishment of an Asian-American studies program. On Feb. 16 of last year, members of Asian/American Students for Action presented their plan to vice provost for academic initiatives Denise Anthony. They group had received over 60 signatures of support from students and alumni.
Although it has been almost a year since the organization filed its petition with administrators, no significant action has been taken to address its concerns. The establishment of an Asian-American studies program remains a distant possibility. The College’s tepid response to students seeking greater intellectual engagement is concerning for a number of reasons. With increased academic rigor as a central tenet of MDF, administrators should be more responsive. It is incumbent upon them to meet the needs of students in search of an enhanced educational experience.
As of the 2015-2016 school year, Dartmouth offers interdisciplinary programs in African and African-American studies, Asian and Middle-Eastern studies, Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies, Native American studies and women, gender and sexuality studies. With regard to foreign language study, students can elect courses in both romance and non-romance languages. That being said, the College’s offerings in non-romance languages are limited and inflexible, tending to inconvenience students. Introductory courses in Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Japanese and Russian are offered only in the fall, making them largely inaccessible to students juggling their D-Plans with other academic or extracurricular pursuits. Despite the College’s commitment to a rigorous, global education, it continues to lag behind its peer institutions.
At Princeton University, undergraduates can choose from a wide range of courses in Asian-American/Asian Diasporic studies. The same is true at the University of Pennsylvania, where students can work towards a minor in Asian-American studies. Both of these programs offer opportunities for cultural immersion and facilitate greater awareness in students. Dartmouth undergraduates, just like their counterparts at Princeton and UPenn, would have much to gain from such experiences.
Furthermore, these institutions also surpass Dartmouth in foreign language offerings. The Rassias Method used at the College improves undergraduates’ fluency in only a select few languages. The U.S. State Department recently identified 14 “critical foreign languages” that will become increasingly important in the coming years. Of these, Dartmouth offers instruction in only four — Arabic, Chinese, Japanese and Russian. In contrast, students at Princeton can study 22 languages, including nine of the State Department’s critical languages. Likewise, Harvard University offers nearly 100 different languages, including 10 critical languages. The result? Dartmouth students are at a consistent disadvantage relative to their peers at other Ivy League institutions.
The College’s liberal arts education and commitment to global awareness likely persuaded many of us to make the leap from prospective students to members of the Dartmouth community. From the day we matriculate, we are told that we will leave Hanover, four years later, as worldly citizens ready to take on whatever lies ahead. While rural New Hampshire may not be the most conducive setting for cultivating worldliness, Dartmouth could do better.
The College’s administrators should be doing everything in their power to enhance our educational experience. This includes and goes beyond establishing an Asian-American studies program. The College should offer more languages and diversify its faculty and its course offerings. If it wants to continue attracting the best and the brightest, Dartmouth must keep up its end of the bargain. For almost 250 years, students have come to Hanover — not for frigid winters or moose sightings — for an education. Ultimately, a Dartmouth education should serve students so that when we leave Hanover to roam “the girdled earth” we do so as informed and aware as possible.
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