Chin: A Nod to Our History

by Clara Chin | 8/11/16 10:30pm

“It is a small college, yet there are those who love it.”

Whether you’ve heard this on “Scandal” or through the actual 1819 Dartmouth College v. Woodward case, you may eventually begin to feel this way, too. After finishing my first year, I know I do. A huge part of Dartmouth’s identity is holding firm to staunch traditions, and I like this quote because it reminds me of Dartmouth’s two-and-a-half-century-long history and the endearing intimacy that is particularly strong at this small, old school.

As someone who appreciates nostalgia and anything old-fashioned, I enjoy many of Dartmouth’s traditions. I loved my first-year trip, despite having an intense fear of insects and cabins in the middle of nowhere. I loved sipping a latte from KAF and walking through the elaborate ice sculptures on the snow-covered Green with my friends during Winter Carnival. Most of all, I love being able to say that I write for America’s oldest college newspaper.

But I also acknowledge the reality that the traditions I enjoy so much only became accessible to women in 1972; that the first Asian woman, Theresa Look, didn’t graduate until a year later. The college’s long history means that it is well-established and its members tend to be close-knit, but it can also be resistant to change. Holding fast to tradition allows us to participate in activities founded centuries ago, but it also allowed the school to reject coeducation three separate times, first in 1872, before finally becoming the last Ivy to allow it in 1972. To continue making Dartmouth welcome for everyone here, we must be aware of its traditions for its benefits and its flaws.

Recent campus political issues and incidents, such as the Black Lives Matter and #FightForFacultyofColor movements, the posting and prompt removal of Blue Lives Matter flyers, the posting of flyers mocking Indigenous People’s Day as well as Native Americans and national issues such as campus sexual assault make certain aspects of our College’s history especially relevant today.

I met a friendly Concord resident, part of that first class of women to attend the College, over the summer at a political event for women. Though my complaints about rigid gender roles seemed small compared to the blatant sexism she faced during her time at the College, our experiences are not unrelated. Some of Dartmouth’s traditions can often be described as hyper-masculine, with a social scene centered around fraternities and a history of celebrating male athletes that has inspired fun but gendered movies such as “Animal House.” Meanwhile, resources for activities once seen as feminine, such as dance, are scant or undeveloped. The lack of a presence of women at Dartmouth during a time when such activities were often restricted to women means that these activities are still in the shadows.

The same holds true for people of color. Currently, student groups like Asian/Asian American Students for Action call to strengthen ethnic study programs at Dartmouth. Dartmouth was initially founded as a school to educate Native Americans, but partly due to his inability to recruit enough Native Americans to attend the school, Eleazar Wheelock shifted the school’s purpose and focus toward white Americans. Yet embedded in Dartmouth’s insignia and its motto are symbols and depictions of Native Americans that appropriate their culture. To make up for the exclusion and cultural ridicule of the past, ethnic study programs and sensitivity about racial slurs and jokes are especially important now, but the presence of flyers such as those mocking Indigenous People’s Day shows that the school has a long way to go.

But for those of you already aware of these uncomfortable truths, I urge you to remember that these issues are not unique to Dartmouth. We must seek action yet remain patient. To see students write hateful comments on Yik Yak about those simply trying to call out racism on a national and local scale, or to see misogynist behavior in frats, can be frustrating and disheartening. But remembering the past reminds us that much of Dartmouth’s progress on inclusivity came later in its history, so we cannot expect it to be perfect yet. Rather, we can begin to take responsibility for continually improving its inclusivity.

Traditions are part of the reason I love our school. However, we must not let tradition lead to exclusivity and resistance to necessary change. My encounter with the Dartmouth alumnae serves as a reminder that we should be aware of this school’s history — both how far the school has come in recent years and how much we still need to improve. As new students, we need you to help shape the dialogue. Let’s celebrate the traditions of the past while striving for progress in the future. I like Dartmouth’s traditions because they make me feel like a part of a larger whole. Entering Dartmouth critical of its history and open to change will allow the best Dartmouth traditions to become accessible to a wider range of people.