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The Dartmouth
May 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hive Mind Vaccination

Armor yourself with self-awareness.

At the time that I am writing this, I am in Rio de Janeiro — far away from Dartmouth, both physically and mentally. I’m living in Tabajaras, a favela in Copacabana that is run by a cartel with just three golden rules: do not rape, do not steal, do not kill. Break one, and the last remnants of you will be your ashes scattered over a mountaintop.

As I walked up the hills into Tabajaras for the first time, I saw dusty abandoned cars with flat tires lining the side of the road, teenage boys walking by with machine guns, scooters passing by practically grazing my ankles and colorful graffiti art on crumbling walls. I saw a policeman lounging on a chair on the street, feigning to keep the peace, but after passing him I am told to never speak to or even look at the police in the favela or risk falling out of the cartel’s good graces. I was told to erase any preconceived notions of what life should be — because here, it’s backwards.

When we veered off to a narrow and steep road, we were greeted by beautiful, laughing children babbling away in Portuguese, a puppy in one child’s arms and a piece of cake in the hands of another. These were the kids who I would be teaching for the next few weeks with a program called Project Favela. In a matter of hours, I learned that behind their rambunctious energy and big smiles full of teeth, the world had not been kind to them.

Prior to my time in Rio, I spent six weeks in New York City, where fate brought me to live with two women who managed to shake the ground under my feet. The three of us were all in different places in our lives — Catherine was a lifelong New Yorker in her mid-fifties, and Meriem was a 33-year-old investment banker turned energy healer from Morocco. They never failed to remind me how much life there is for me to live and how much power I have to shape my present and future. Both highly spiritual and mindful, they taught me that the finer things in life are found inside our minds — and when you tune into yourself, you tune into everything and everyone around you.

These were lessons I had been learning throughout my Dartmouth experience that became far clearer to me during my time away from campus. Our time at Dartmouth should empower us to realize the potential to shape our lives by encouraging us to cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness and empathy — an understanding of who we are in the world and how we relate to one another.

Dartmouth is, whether for better or for worse, a bubble. Within one square mile, there exists a language and a culture unto itself. We have our own initiations, rites of passage, cultural garb, slang and subcultures — it is as beautifully unique as it is insulating. This bubble will immerse you and it will challenge you, but how you bend under pressure is up to you.

In a place as niche as Dartmouth, it can be easier to morph into a version of the status quo than it is to grow into yourself. Whatever you do here, I hope you choose to be yourself. You are not here to have your narrative written for you —there is no narrative that will do you justice unless you create it for yourself. Being a part of something bigger does not have to come at the price of your authenticity and autonomy.

The best armor you can wear is a deep desire to continue developing an understanding of yourself. On my first day of class with the kids in Tabajaras, we did an exercise where we asked them questions like “What is your biggest dream?” “What is your biggest fear?” “What makes you laugh?” “What makes you cry?”

We had them write their answers down, and one-by-one they presented them to each other. Scott, the director of the Project, explained how incredibly therapeutic and powerful this exercise was for them, whether they realized it or not . No one in these children’s lives cares about who they want to be when they grow up or what they like or dislike. They almost never leave the favela, nor are they encouraged to pursue or even imagine a life outside of it. They mature without any sense of self-awareness, and asking them these questions allows them to entertain the idea that they are their own person with their own dreams, feelings, fears and desires. Cultivating a sense of self in these children is one of the most effective forms of inoculation against the gravity of the favela so that they can stand a chance at creating a reality outside of it.

The kids in the favela did not choose their reality, nor are they given the option to experience anything different at this point in their lives. It isn’t just that the “grass is greener” where we stand— the soil beneath our feet is nurtured, fertilized, watered and protected. No matter where you are in your D-plan, whether you are on campus, studying abroad or on an off term, this is the time to ask yourself what your dreams are, what your fears are, what makes you laugh and what makes you cry. Stay skeptical. Ask yourself why you make the decisions you make, why you care about the things you care about and whether it is you or the hive mind that is writing your story.

The story of this institution is a complicated one that has evolved drastically over the last couple centuries as a result of the people who thwarted the existing narrative and chose to write their own stories instead. By acting out of self-awareness, they bred a newfound empathy into the institution that opened doors for identities that had never been welcomed before.

Change is the product of being discontent, and then choosing to move forward on your own compass rather than succumbing to the collective consciousness. It is not Dartmouth who makes us, but rather those who love Dartmouth and call her home that make her who she is.