Verbum Ultimum: Too Pretty a Picture
For many of us, our first impression of Dartmouth as students was getting off of the Dartmouth Coach, frame pack in tow, for Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips. We looked out the window nervously as the bus circled the Green, and many of us saw flair-clad upperclassmen yelling and chasing the bus to the stop. The first thing we learn about Dartmouth is how fun, wacky and outgoing the people are, and how much they absolutely love their school. There was a huge banner on the outside of Collis that read “Welcome Home!” This attitude was pervasive throughout Trips: most every song, dance, speech and activity revolved around how people came into their own at and because of Dartmouth. It isn’t just Trips. Other traditions like Dimensions and prospective student tours paint a similar picture of Dartmouth as an amazing place for outgoing, energetic people who are thrilled just to be here. Unfortunately, this picture isn’t entirely realistic and it is often problematic.
Of course, we can’t blame groups like the DOC or Dimensions for highlighting the good parts about Dartmouth while downplaying the bad ones. They are meant to convince people to come to Dartmouth or get them excited about the idea of being here, and you don’t exactly do that by parading all of Dartmouth’s flaws. However, these institutions paint a nearly perfect picture of the College. A real place made up of real people, with nuanced flaws and constantly evolving issues, is reduced to a picturesque snow globe where nothing ever disturbs the idyllic balance. Not only is this not entirely honest, but this lie of omission can end up being damaging.
Coming off of Trips, during which they constantly hear about the amazing Dartmouth experience, a student may be surprised when cracks begin to appear in the Dartmouth façade. A class doesn’t engage them like they had hoped, their floor-mates don’t become an instant posse of best friends, frat parties aren’t the rowdy but inclusive scene that they had been sold on. How does someone reconcile that with the awesome, fun version of the College they had heard over and over again? Since there can’t possibly be a problem with Dartmouth, the problem must lie within them. The reality is that this omnipresent attitude of the College as amazing, welcoming and “home” puts an immense amount of pressure on people. Someone who takes issue with an aspect of Dartmouth life or doesn’t feel as at home as they thought they were supposed to assumes that they are totally alone. The only thing worse than not feeling comfortable or at home in the place where you’re going to spend the better part of four years is feeling like you’re the only one who feels that way, that everyone else around you is doing just fine all the time and the problem must come from inside you. Adjusting to college can be a very lonely time for a lot of people, and we are only making it more so by putting up this façade.
To be clear, we are not saying to do away with Trips, Dimensions, admissions tours or even change them drastically. There just needs to be a concerted effort to work on evening out the way they represent Dartmouth to better prepare students and to let them know that if they do encounter issues or feel out of place, they aren’t alone. There have been efforts, especially by the DOC, to reach out and include people with diverse perspectives that have been underrepresented in Trips. However, because of the attitude towards Dartmouth that is associated with Trips, applicants become self-selecting. Someone who doesn’t buy into, or feels uncomfortable about, the Dartmouth they portray isn’t going to want to be involved, limiting the perspectives to which new and prospective students are exposed. But, if these people see that these groups are steering more towards a realistic portrayal of Dartmouth and less towards that snow globe, maybe they will be more willing to be involved. For many people, their time at Dartmouth has been an amazing experience, and this little college has become their home. Still, it is important to recognize that everybody can’t feel that way all the time, and that Dartmouth does have some very real problems. When we welcome people into the Dartmouth family, let’s make sure they know that even if they may sometimes feel like they’re not at home, they are absolutely never alone.
The editorial board consists of the editor-in-chief, publisher, both executive editors and an opinion editor.