Levy: DartHealth

Campus culture fosters a strange mix of healthy and toxic behaviors.

by Gabrielle Levy | 4/11/19 2:05am

Campus outsiders use many stereotypes to describe Dartmouth students. Posts on college-matching website Unigo portray Dartmouth as a fraternity-dominated, beer-drinking party school, but also as a place where students are laid back, outdoorsy and active. I find these Dartmouth stereotypes contradictory — on one hand, students are known for extreme partying, and on the other, they are seen as healthy and physically active. The truth is that both stereotypes are largely valid.

The College’s culture places focus on the performative components of a healthy lifestyle. The gym is almost always jam-packed. On warmer days, everyone seems to be out on a run. And then there is the graduation requirement of three physical education credits, which compels students to engage in physical activity like spin class or a weekly ski lesson at the Dartmouth Skiway. 

A 2018 survey from the Office of Institutional Research reports that Dartmouth students are generally healthy. Survey respondents reported getting seven hours of sleep a night on average and engaging in moderate-intensity cardiovascular activity for at least 30 minutes for three days out of the week. Fifty percent of respondents also reported consuming three or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

But among students who report being healthy and active, many also partake in extremely unhealthy behaviors related to alcohol. In the same survey, 50 percent of respondents reported engaging in high-risk drinking, defined as five or more drinks in one sitting, in the past two weeks. This self-reported data is concordant with other surveys. According to the Student Wellness Center’s most recent annual report, there were 183 medical encounters related to alcohol intoxication in which students received care at Dick’s House or at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center from July 2017 to June 2018.

Moreover, in May 2018, 8.5 percent of 1,549 students surveyed by College Pulse reported having eight to nine drinks on a typical night out. In the same survey, 20.6 percent of the students surveyed reported “blacking out” at least one to two times in the last two weeks.

Upon entering college, we tend to believe that we are invincible and that we can do anything. Early on in our time at Dartmouth, we adopt an “anything is possible” mindset: We are premed students and theater majors, we win track meets on the weekend and ace engineering exams the following Monday. We observe those around us pull off the incredible juggling act that is the embodiment of the ultimate Dartmouth “work hard, play hard” mentality, and we believe that we can too. 

And for the most part, we can. We spend hours in Baker-Berry Library to get the GPAs we want, and we make time for Dartmouth traditions like Green Key and other social events. Yet we may forget about the long-term consequences of overdrinking, such as liver disease, nerve damage and high blood pressure. We live in a world of denial in which we believe that these health risks don’t apply to us. They do. 

This is not just another article proclaiming that alcohol abuse is wrong or that Dartmouth students should stop drinking. Rather, I suggest we Dartmouth students change our mindsets. We can no longer use healthy behaviors to justify our unhealthy relationship with alcohol. We should step down from our world of frat fantasy and remind ourselves of the harm our behaviors do to our overall health.