Szuhaj: In Appreciation of Dartmouth

Despite its flaws, Dartmouth has much to love.

by Ben Szuhaj | 5/25/17 12:35am

At this point in the year — between post-midterms fatigue and pre-finals stress — it isn’t uncommon to become disenchanted with the notions of hard work and success so often emphasized at Dartmouth. With an administration in turmoil, a monopolistic dining system, a flawed housing system and an undeniable pattern of elitism and racial discrimination in faculty hiring and retention, it can be incredibly easy to focus on Dartmouth’s problems.

Even my classes teach me to think critically about the College. It isn’t hard to see why — after spending two hours in class deconstructing a text, I can walk into Collis, read an administration-sponsored flyer encouraging me to relax more and immediately find fault with it. The flyer in question seems disingenuous coming from an institution that also tells us we are not working hard enough and thus need more academic rigor. It raises suspicion precisely because of what I am learning in school; namely, of a vague idea of neoliberalism, a paradigm of privatization in which life is a zero-sum game. I am taught to question anything whose value claims to exceed the amount of effort required to experience it. In other words — and this is partly because Dartmouth is run like a corporation — here, there is no free lunch.

I want to push back against this idea. While there are many things at Dartmouth that warrant long hours of work, and while Dartmouth has many fundamental problems that are all too easy to complain about, the College also has many positive aspects that do not get their fair share of the spotlight. Whether or not the tenure process is biased in favor of white professors and whether or not we do a poor job at retaining faculty of color, the professors we have are still brilliant. We are lucky to have the chance to learn from and alongside them, many of whom go out of their way to meet with us outside of class to field our questions and foster our intellectual curiosity and — perhaps this is the most “Dartmouth professorial” trait of all — who are all-around cool people. I’ve had professors who I admire not just for the grace of their teaching but also for their charisma and ability to shade the gray area of the student-teacher relationship into one of intellectual peers.

It’s not just professors that make Dartmouth special. Our traditions, flawed as some of them may be, are at the very least our traditions. Homecoming is a cultish experience replete with flames and primal chanting, yes — and for some, that might make it something worthy of criticizing — but not only is it something I will never forget, it is also fun, strange, discomforting and thrilling all at the same time. That does not mean that we should never question the status quo at Dartmouth. It simply means that while we can level critique at our harmful traditions, we should also be able to admit that some of them do effectively bring our community — our entire community — together, if only for a weekend at a time.

Let’s speed it up a bit: Hanover is a small, faraway, white, upper-crust town. Check. But the rural area we live in also allows us to hike Gile Mountain in the fall, ski in the winter and kayak in the Connecticut River in the spring and the summer. The King Arthur Flour line is long, but so are lines for anything good. Does that mean it couldn’t be improved? No. But rather than write the article “Why the KAF line must change” (which I’m sure will be written in the next six months anyway), I’d rather devote my words to recognizing the perfect mix of deliciousness and caffeine buzz that is a chocolate milk with a shot. Even Dartmouth Dining Services, as much as I like to complain, does an adequate job of making sure we don’t starve. I absolutely think it could do better, but I also think it’s unrealistic to expect Foco’s lasagna to taste like my mother’s. It is a college dining service after all.

The housing system and the ballooning administration are harder to defend, in particular because I find very little about them redemptive, but at the end of the day let’s look at what we still have. The Greek system hasn’t been abolished. Green Key goes on. The rules of the game are changing — read: mandatory walk-throughs and Green Key wristbands — but the change we so often predict in our critical conversations has yet to take place. The administration isn’t the Empire. Students aren’t the Rebel Alliance. We aren’t locked in a fight for the fate of our school.

At the end of the day, we are incredibly privileged to go to Dartmouth. Even if we feel like the school is going in the wrong direction, we must be aware that we as people change alongside it. Perhaps part of the reason the College seemed better during your freshman fall has more to do with your bright-eyed enthusiasm than it does with the derecognition of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. This does not mean that we should discount the problems Dartmouth has. It simply means that we, as students, friends, daughters, sons, people, should be able to hold two seemingly disparate ideas in our head at the same time. Dartmouth has flaws, but it is beautiful too.