de Guardiola: Let’s Build Community

We need to talk about ways we can build a better sense of community.

by Mercedes de Guardiola | 11/1/16 1:10am

Despite being here for three years now, the first and only time I have participated in making the Homecoming Bonfire was this past weekend, when the 2017 Class Council hosted a brunch for the senior class so we could all sign the Class of 2017 board. By the time I arrived — after taking advantage of having no classes on Friday and sleeping in — a sizeable crowd had already come and gone in Collis Common Ground. But as I signed my name, I noticed that my signature only added to maybe 30 or so others.

Since freshman year, one of the major trends I have noticed at Dartmouth is a very real lack of community in major areas. It’s strange, considering that we have a reputation for being so involved in Greek life and so heavy on traditions. At times I’m happy for it — it’s kind of nice not to stress about missing sports games or big parties, whereas at some schools it might mean the end of your social life. But it’s an issue I’ve seen affect my own time here as well as that of others, and it’s an issue that we should look to fix.

One of the major complaints about freshman year is that is can be immensely hard to meet upperclassmen. Though living with only other freshman can have its benefits, there are also major downsides. Many freshmen tend to only spend time with their floor for the first few months, leaving those who don’t form tight bonds with their floormates feeling left out. While the ban on Greek houses aims to discourage risky drinking behaviors and to introduce freshmen to alternate social spaces, it also takes away an easy venue to meet other students and gives immense social power to students who host parties for freshmen. In contrast to the open-door policy in place at most Greek houses, freshmen dorm parties are usually invite-only, leaving many freshmen excluded from simple social events and without a forum to meet other students.

As a freshman, the inability for freshman women to interact with upperclasswomen contributed the most to my feeling of exclusion from the Dartmouth community. Although it would be nice to approach this problem outside of the Greek system, one of the benefits of being male at Dartmouth is the ability to meet and spend time with the same upperclassmen weekly at fraternities once the ban ends in the fall. For women, there is no social space where we can regularly do this, since very few events are hosted in female-dominated social spaces. The few events hosted in these spaces tend to be huge parties — unlike the more relaxed pong scene at most fraternities that allows for more casual conversation. When — and if — freshmen women do meet upperclasswomen in fraternities, they’re not spaces in which they can regularly bond with the same women.

One solution would be to open up Greek houses more because, like it or not, they are a major part of student life at Dartmouth. Houses can be used to help introduce freshmen to a larger community without necessarily encouraging younger students to join a Greek house later on. Instead of focusing on holding events in fraternity basements, Greek houses should sponsor more events on campus to encourage bonding between classes. Service events or daytime activities like pumpkin carving can serve as an easy gateway to meet older students.

Though there are some traditions that have rightfully been discarded, Dartmouth students seem to want to get rid of the good ones as well. Why isn’t decorating the Homecoming Bonfire something every student rushes to do? Why don’t people line up to be a part of the Homecoming Parade? Last year, the lack of a snow sculpture marred winter carnival. The last minute snow sculpture of the hat of Dr. Suess’ “Cat in the Hat” paled in comparison to the full sized Cat built in 2004. While there are areas of social life on campus that need to be seriously changed if we want to see communities built, the student body also should step up instead of letting the opportunities for community-building slip away.

Though it is too soon to tell, the new house system may help build communities. One change that could help in the meantime would be to rename the houses and the community spaces that accompany them — House Center B, for example, is a name unlikely to muster much enthusiasm. Personally, although I feel that the housing system would have better served the student population by using single dorms instead of clusters of 500 to 800 students, I think that the increased programming will prove beneficial to building community.

Ultimately, the lack of community will not be solved this year, or maybe not even in the next 10 years. Despite this, we can take small steps to improve and build community at Dartmouth. This should start with the many organizations and groups on campus discussing the issue. At the end of the day, while Dartmouth can provide opportunities for students to build community, it’s up to the students to take advantage of them.

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