Verbum Ultimum: Open the Playground
Dartmouth cannot continue to be a playground for privilege.
Fifty years ago, the Dartmouth student body was completely male. In typical Dartmouth fashion, there was resistance to change. But with considerable effort over the years, that demographic has changed: since 2012, the student body has had equal representation of both genders. To this day, Dartmouth continues to redefine what it means to preserve tradition without excluding deserving students on the basis of race, gender and socioeconomic background from the opportunities of a Dartmouth education.
Dartmouth may be an elite institution, but it should not be only for those who come from “elite” backgrounds — yet 21 percent of students are from the top one percent of annual incomes, while only 2.6 percent come from the bottom fifth. A Dartmouth education should be one that is not just earned based on what a student has accomplished because those from privileged circumstances will always be able to afford more and better opportunities and rely on a sense of security to fully devote their energy to pursuing their passions in a high-caliber institution. A Dartmouth education must also be earned by students’ willingness and potential to grow as human beings, engage their intellect and take advantage of the differences in perspective by which they will be surrounded throughout their four years at the College.
What makes students choose Dartmouth? The College’s reputation has historically attracted students of yesteryear. Unrestricted pong and binge drinking in the middle of the woods may come to some minds, but students should be choosing Dartmouth because of a genuine drive to learn. A Dartmouth education is an opportunity to understand one’s place in the world relative not only to the people around oneself, but to the surrounding communities in the Upper Valley. Making the most of Dartmouth should not be the product of social calendars, pong skills or even a high GPA; rather, it should be a product of perspectives gained and self-growth. Many students leave Dartmouth with a more expansive worldview and greater self-awareness, but many others leave without ever quite bursting out of the bubble they came from.
Such narrow-mindedness is dangerous. Despite momentous progress in the last fifty years, in many ways Dartmouth still holds on to vestiges of elitism and entitlement. This campus should not be a playground for privilege that goes unchallenged. It is natural for people of similar identity and background to gravitate toward each other, but self-segregation, unconscious or not, will only produce tunnel vision. Yes, all people are a product of their experiences and identities; but in order to gain perspective, it is important to see those experiences and identities juxtaposed against those that differ. Without such measures, people will continue to actively participate in a culture that perpetuates exclusivity and insularity.
Dartmouth is and has always been structurally designed as a playground for the privileged. Because of that, those who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds may not easily find a sense of belonging in this community. Not only are students responsible for self-segregating, the College as an institution is responsible for encouraging it. Dartmouth’s social structure is predominantly founded on tradition, which makes sense considering the lengthy histories behind many social organizations. Wealth, privilege and status tend to be clustered within certain Greek houses and secret societies, which contributes to the interconnectedness of wealthy Dartmouth families who continue to reinforce these homogeneous relationships in their children. The infrastructure of Dartmouth’s social scene is designed to pass down privilege.
Dartmouth has created a culture that fails to recognize how privilege plays a role in establishing norms. Certain tenets of Dartmouth’s core identity are so prevalent that they are made to seem accessible to all, when in reality they require high financial resources and privileges to be afforded. Bean boots and Canada Goose jackets are symbols of Dartmouth’s niche consumerist culture, which is unattainable for many. It is easily forgotten that leisure time to engage in traditional Dartmouth pastimes of fratting and pong are not necessarily accessible to students who are simultaneously working to pay off loans. What students often overlook is that many of the elements that make up Dartmouth’s core identity are, in fact, luxuries.
Dartmouth will continue to perpetuate the same exclusive values until students decide to actively engage beyond what they know during their time here. Alumni donations play a huge role in shaping the College’s future, making it important to consider what kind of alumni are donating and why. Prior the founding of the Centennial Circle in 2014, men donated 4.7 times more money to Dartmouth than women — which translates to 4.7 times more power to influence its future. After the Circle was created, men now give 2.5 times more money than women. Such efforts are both effective and laudable — but in order to truly diversify the demographic of alumni donors in all respects, the College must address the issue starting from the ground up by reforming students’ social experiences. Dartmouth alumni must be encouraged to practice responsible donating. If students are not sufficiently exposed to difference during their time here, they will continue to donate in a way that perpetuates the outdated values and experiences they had as students.
Dartmouth is not what it was 50 years ago. Today, Dartmouth has become significantly more diverse and conscious of treading the fine line between tradition and elitism. Fifty years from now, Dartmouth should not look the way it does today. The line between tradition and elitism should be bolded and distinct. Future generations of Dartmouth should feel like their identity has roots on this campus. The College must think critically about how institutional influence plays a role in alienating its own students, and students must think critically about how their actions perpetuate self-segregation. Dartmouth has grown tremendously, but it must not become complacent with its progress thus far.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.
Correction Appended (May 11, 2018): This article has been updated to remove a factual inaccuracy regarding marriage rates among Dartmouth alumni.