Investigating the Dartmouth Seven

by Marie-Capucine Pineau-Valencienne | 2/15/17 2:15am

Out of all the time-honored campus traditions, the “Dartmouth Seven” holds the prize as one of the most controversial and talked about amongst students and alums alike. In case you’re not familiar with the infamous tradition, the “Dartmouth Seven” is a list of seven places on campus to engage in sexual activity: the Green, the top of the Hopkins Center, the library stacks, the steps in front of Dartmouth Hall, the President’s lawn, the BEMA and the 50-yard line of the football field. A small number of students actually complete the list, but the possibility of being caught doesn’t deter many couples from making an attempt. The challenge is one of those Dartmouth-isms that make our student body seem much more risqué and wild than most of us actually are.

It’s similar to when your friend from home inevitably makes an “Animal House” joke, to which you coolly roll your eyes despite actually trying not to look too smug as you bask in your school’s infamous reputation. If only your friends knew that finding a spot in the library during midterm season is just as difficult as parking an Escalade in Midtown Manhattan. Like our “Animal House” infamy, the Dartmouth Seven is also one of those not-so-secret sources of pride on campus. The “Seven” endows its participants with eternal bragging rights and a sense of accomplishment met only by those with a Masters title.

Tegwyth Alderson-Taber ’17 explained that she had never met anyone who was embarrassed by successfully checking a Dartmouth Seven spot off the list.

“I haven’t met anyone who wasn’t [proud],” Alderson-Taber said.

Catharine Roddy ’19 echoed Alderson-Taber’s assertion.

“I do think that it is in some weird way a sign of achievement,” Roddy said.

To investigate the origin of this infamous tradition, I headed to Rauner Special Collections Library. With its imposing Grecian columns and cathedral-like ceilings, Rauner characterizes all that is academically prestigious. The answers I was looking for could possibly lie next to the Shakespeare Folio or the collection of Robert Frost’s personal notes. Rauner is home to some of the College’s most important research materials, so what better place to find the rhyme and reason behind the Seven than the rare books collections?

I asked the librarians for any and all files related to Dartmouth’s “sexual history,” to which they responded with open mouths and blank stares. Feeling a lot less journalistically important than I had before, I diverted to another tactic and found evidence of Dartmouth students “fraternizing” with the opposite sex even before women were admitted at the College.

Could it be possible that the Dartmouth Seven predates the College’s transition into coeducation? Alderson-Taber thought it was possible.

“It was an all-male school but there wasn’t an absence of women,” Alderson-Taber said.

Prior to female students matriculating in 1972, Dartmouth boys were known to get cozy with the “seven sisters,” better known as the local all-female colleges: Wellesley, Radcliffe, Mount Holyoke, Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Barnard and Smith. Dartmouth was a staple in the New England college social scene, attracting masses of young women to the middle of New Hampshire for a good time.

The Dartmouth Seven could have originated during our school’s time as an all-male college since women visited for short periods of time, prompting the boys to engage in somewhat inappropriate behaviour while they could.

Big weekends such as Winter Carnival attracted many women to the male-dominated campus. A 1928 article by John Griffin from The Daily Dartmouth, found in Rauner, recounts how “600 joyful girls stepped down to a soft fleecy carpet of snow … Dartmouth’s annual winter carnival, which glorifies more American girls in a year than Ziegfeld does in a decade, thereupon became a complete and satisfying success.” One lucky lady was even crowned the “Queen of Snows” every year. As I looked through the stack of old Winter Carnival documents, I came across some dance cards from Winter Carnival balls. As I picked up the little booklets that all those boys signed while waiting in line to dance with girls, I couldn’t help but giggle at how civilized it all seemed on the surface. Come on, we all know those nice couples were racing for a good spot in the BEMA or a cozy corner of the Green once all this civility ended.

Alderson-Taber theorized that the short visits from girls ignited a desire to do something “fun and crazy,” possibly like the Dartmouth Seven.

Another plausible and considerably less charming theory about the origins of the Seven relates to the way that many Dartmouth students probably spent this past Winter Carnival weekend: hooking up.

“Dartmouth has [a hookup culture], even more so than other places, and it’s one that has been sustained for a really long time,” Alderson-Taber said.

Alderson-Taber also remarked how the Dartmouth Seven is a tradition that reflects some aspects of the social atmosphere on campus. She guessed that the Seven “probably came from a bet or competition between guys.”

Roddy, a psychology major, explained how she thought the Dartmouth Seven was just another way Dartmouth students, who are often Ivy League overachievers, compete with each other in all aspects of life, include their sex lives.

“I think a lot of it comes from social insecurity,” Roddy said. “I think a lot of people try to make sex into a game because they’re insecure about it. So if you can reduce it to something to be competitive with, something that just a game, then if you lose then it’s whatever, it’s a way of deflecting.”

Roddy went on to explain how the Dartmouth Seven can simplify sex into “something that is just physical.”

Roddy remarked what a paradox this all was, saying “there’s emotions attached to everything,” she said. “There’s emotions attached to walking, to eating, to socializing, facial recognition — and you think sex is magically exempt from that? I think if anything it’s probably the most emotional thing you can do with someone.”

The tradition of the Dartmouth Seven speaks volumes not only about our competitive streak and wild tendencies, but also our love-hate relationship with the hookup culture on campus. Whether the Seven is something you want to accomplish before you graduate or makes you wish you were just a little more of a wild child, it is one of those Dartmouth-ism that crowns us the “naughty” (aka fun) Ivy League school.