Old traditions remain
Okay, I’ll admit it. I bought my first Patagonia sweater the summer before I came to Dartmouth with the expectation that it would not only be useful, but also that every student would probably own one. Like many others at Dartmouth, I succumbed to the pressure of wanting to match my peers when I altered my wardrobe. In many cases, however, conformity at Dartmouth reaches beyond a fashion statement.
“Conformity” is certainly a broad term. There are many ways in which students can conform, and it often has an initially negative connotation.
“It comes on many levels,” Michael Sun ’19 said. “I think the most negative form of conformity is when people are actively going against their own beliefs and values to do something or against a culture or image that they normally wouldn’t oppose. But then there’s all these subliminal types, like things that I think are pretty harmless, which is like fashion and music interests.”
Despite what may first come to mind when thinking about conformity, it still has some notable benefits, especially for people who are exposed to new ideas for the first time and genuinely agree with them.
“I think that there are some positive things of a conformational expectation at Dartmouth, like being more socially and politically aware,” Sun said. “That is something I was not in high school; I was never pushed to be. But that’s kind of an expectation at Dartmouth.”
Dartmouth students come from all across the world, from various socioeconomic backgrounds and with unique experiences. However, once they come to Dartmouth, they are newly united in their identity as Dartmouth students. Closed in the so-called “bubble” of Hanover, students often acquire habits or ideas from their peers.
“I think that there’s a lot of conformity at Dartmouth,” Carson Smith ’20 said. “And I think that’s in part due to Dartmouth’s sort of unique culture, I would say. There are a lot of traditions involved in being a Dartmouth student with all sorts of different things and little quirks and it makes people feel like they’re really a part of the community. But I think that that breeds a certain level of expectation, and that expectation people then have to conform to.”
Smith also noted the popularity of pursuing careers in finance amongst Dartmouth students. While not everyone is impacted by the pressure to study economics or government or pursue a corporate career, students still see it as a part of Dartmouth’s culture.
“And I think that that breeds a certain expectation of how to be, how to act and how you need to constantly be furthering yourself and improving your resume or else you’re going to fall behind,” Smith said.
Dartmouth students can often be identified by the specific groups into which they fall and to which they may conform. However, some people attempt to identify students beyond their group memberships.
“When you describe someone, you describe them by saying their year, their major, their sports team or their Greek house,” Danielle Moragne ’17 said. “Those are all conforming ideas, but what makes [describing people] really cool is if you’re able to describe [people] by something that they are really passionate about.”
Both Moragne and Sun noticed that first-year students are often the ones who most easily conform or change. Yet this phase is not necessarily harmful, as it can be important for students to experiment with the identities they want to have at Dartmouth.
“We are pretty malleable people coming into Dartmouth or college in general,” Moragne said. “Students are experiencing this pseudo-freedom on a lawless campus in a weird way, and so conforming to things makes us feel safer. As we mature we become more individualistic.”
In addition, Sun finds that students can benefit from figuring out who they are by first realizing who they are not.
“I think that everyone’s allowed a process of doing what might be the norm or what everyone else is doing in order to figure out what they don’t want to do, and define by contrast,” Sun said.
Conformity affects nearly everyone at Dartmouth, whether we realize it or not. While it is important for students to be cautious and stay true to their own identity, new ideas — with their potential to instigate positive change — should also be welcomed. In the end, the most important expectations to uphold are the ones people establish for themselves, even if they evolve over time.
“I think that people need to be less concerned with the word ‘conformity’ because it is an ongoing process of figuring out who you are and who you’re not,” Sun said. “So if people think conformity is a dangerous thing, that’s not necessarily true. If people think conformity is a positive thing, that’s also not necessarily true.”