Sharma: Let Your Voice Be Heard

by Hansa Sharma | 9/8/16 11:25pm

Last year, I found myself overwhelmed by much of the information thrown at first-years during our first week on campus. From Ben & Jerry’s with College President Phil Hanlon to the discussion on our summer reading book, the orientation schedule was jam-packed with programming before classes started. On top of this academic transition, college is a significant social change. During Orientation, the Dartmouth campus buds off into schmobs, large groups of freshmen — some with little in common other than the activity they met at — walking from one activity to another.

Going directly from Trips to Orientation seemed like a whirlwind, and I barely remember half of the sessions I attended. This leads me to ask: is a week of Orientation enough of a transition into college? There are many traditions, such as the matriculation ceremony, that are integral to the Dartmouth experience and help freshmen find themselves as part of the Dartmouth community. But when classes pick up in our intense 10-week schedule, would it help to have new students develop friendships organically and learn academic skills experientially rather than through forced socialization in administration-sponsored mixers and general, impersonal advising sessions on various fields of study?

In the midst of the frenzy surrounding settling into college, it feels as if quantity can overcome quality. Thankfully, student panels during Orientation last year addressed this very issue. Some of the most memorable and poignant programs were the ones that included student perspectives calling out duck syndrome, otherwise known as a “fake it till you make it” mentality. Another openly discussed the mental health issues that plague all college students but may hit freshmen especially hard.

Echoing the voices in the student panel, many “schmobs” seem to exacerbate duck syndrome — everyone looks as if they are making friends and immediately finding a secure social group. Yet adjusting to Dartmouth social life can take time, and placing yourself in a box or a “schmob” during the first week of college can be overwhelming as well as limiting — many of my friends still joke about people they met during Orientation and never saw again once fall term started.

Schmob mentality applies to the classroom as well. When it is time to pick classes, many freshmen, myself included, are overambitious and don’t realize how quickly a 10-week term can fly by. Because we were high-achieving students in high school, we bite off more than we can chew or find ourselves limiting our field of study to focus on our preconceived idea of an optimal career path.

One of the most striking aspects of my first year at Dartmouth was how pre-professional some of my classmates were. Some of you will take Economics 1, Chemistry 10 and Computer Science 10 simultaneously your first term in order to be that superhuman pre-medical/pre-finance student of your dreams. A few may succeed, but most will realize that this course load may heavily compromise the rest of your freshman fall experience. Dartmouth is first and foremost a liberal arts institution. Many students do go into lucrative careers in finance and medicine, but these careers are still far off in the future, and should not completely govern your field of study in your first term here or any other.

One of the most important lessons I took away from my first year was to have an open mind during and after Orientation. Although schmobs may disperse by the first day of classes, it is all too easy to let your voice be drowned out amongst the seemingly perfect and put-together people around you. Our motto, “Vox clamantis in deserto,” translates to “a voice crying out in the wilderness.” Let your voice be heard, regardless of what other people are doing.

And one final piece of advice: bring a warm coat.