Brown: Our Big Green World

Our experiences of this place start with each other.

by Matthew Brown | 5/2/17 12:15am

Dartmouth is a strange place. We could politely call the College “unique” or “exceptional,” but positive connotations would discourage any self-reflection on the strangeness of the place we inhabit. It should be obvious to anyone in the Dartmouth community that students, faculty and alumni have a special intimacy with the College rarely seen outside our borders.

It is not unheard of for universities to be self-obsessed microcosms. Social myopia is especially common among the elite universities in Dartmouth’s sphere. Still, Dartmouth’s distinct culture and identity make reflecting on what is so enrapturing about this place worthwhile.

While we are here, and for many students long after, Dartmouth is a ubiquitous and near-inescapable force in our lives. Even when we exit Dartmouth and its various exclaves around the world, we still carry that fabled granite wherever we go. For some, the quirks and qualities received here are empowering and treasured. For others, the granite is a weight that can’t be unloaded, a scar from unforgettable days.

We can lament the “Dartmouth bubble” or question any particular facet of our little green universe, but the reality is that due to geography, history and size, the deep impact of the College on its students is inevitable. We as a community owe it to ourselves and each other to ensure that the influence this place has on us is as positive and constructive as possible.

From my very anecdotal experience, the two most common sentiments expressed by students criticizing Dartmouth are of exclusion and regret. This makes complete sense. College students are at the apex of their social lives, so a “fear of missing out” and social anxiety should be expected among any group of adults.

What strikes me about Dartmouth students, however, is the frequent expressions of a lost sense of belonging, a kind of “Dartmouth Dream” wherein every undergraduate finds a home at the College he or she will forever cherish. This would seem ludicrous did a plurality of students not express fervent love for the communities they’ve found here.

Regret is an even more common confession. We wonder how to “do Dartmouth right,” and those discussions often well up when people feel unsatisfied not only with their success here but also in their sense of place on campus, or lack thereof. Perhaps the idea that mere memories of Dartmouth should elicit complete ecstasy indicates a more pressing need to belong in this place than other universities may demand.

It’s incumbent that I mention the correlation between belonging and identity, whether that manifests in terms of class, race, gender, sexuality or some other facet of identity. A lost sense of connection can and does come from every intersection thereof. We’re all trying to make the most of this place, and regardless of who we are or how we carry ourselves, we will all benefit if we work to make the Dartmouth experience as positive and uplifting as it can be for as many people as possible.

There’s much that could be done to improve Dartmouth. The administration can play its part by enabling more fulfilling experiences in the community, led by students. I concede that maybe the housing system can help accomplish this, though I’d think bringing more of the world to Hanover and creating greater avenues for students to roam “the girdled Earth” would be a more effective approach. Often people do not thrive here simply because their talents and interests are not satisfied by what is available on campus. Fulfilling that basic need would go a long way in improving the student experience.

Ultimately, the onus of bettering Dartmouth’s culture and community falls on the students who make it. We have the greatest ability to shape the College — just as it shapes us. To ensure that the experiences that flow from campus are reflective of the potential of this place, we must examine our culture and community. Do we properly support and interact with people of different identities and persuasions, are we caring for each other’s mental health and has campus truly internalized the idea that there is no one way to “do Dartmouth”?

This is the basic respect we owe each other for personal growth and the benefit of the community at large. We’re all leaving this place with granite minds, but whether that’s a blessing or a burden is ours to decide.