TTLG: To Love Dartmouth at a Distance

by Michael Sun | 5/8/19 2:20am

michael-sun
Courtesy of Michael Sun

Over the past four years, I have seen Dartmouth up close. My time here has been marked by those extra, most-Dartmouth-y experiences like Dimensions, a study abroad term and Greek rush. I sought these experiences because I loved Dartmouth and wanted the hyper-normative status that these experiences denote.

First Year Trips has been the most “Dartmouth” of all my experiences. My love for Trips, nostalgia and a genuine belief that I could positively impact the Class of 2022 motivated me to apply and then volunteer with Lodj Croo. Undoubtedly, the two-and-a-half-week period I spent at Moosilauke Ravine Lodge was one of the most intense and visceral experiences of my life, during which I sweat, cried and bled for Dartmouth. We cooked, cleaned and danced to the Lodj’s near-constant music, the medley of tunes everyone knows. 

When I returned to campus for fall term, I was exhausted but buzzing with traces of Lodj energy and anticipation for senior year. As my friends also made their way back to campus, I went to a Greek house to play a game of pong, like I had done so many times before. Sitting on the side waiting for my turn, I noticed a stream of people entering the basement after an a cappella showcase, suddenly crowding the space around me. A cheer erupted because someone on AUX played Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch.” I let out a half-hearted groan but still rose to my feet to belt the words I knew so well, followed by, of course, the dancing. 

I rose my arms up to the left, then to the right, but all of a sudden, I couldn’t. My body went slack, my vision blurred and the lyrics I sang became whispers into silence. I ran upstairs into the kitchen and sat in a ball against the far wall rocking to myself, but I could still hear the music and feel those beats ringing in my ears. I bolted out the front door and ran across the Green until I reached my favorite bench by Rollins Chapel, hoping that my escape was invisible to others in the night. I curled up on the bench. The music had stopped, but I felt like I was spinning, unable to catch my breath. I felt alone.

The accumulated exhaustion and stress from Lodj Croo, as well as my own personal struggles, had transformed a core memory of my Dartmouth experience into a trigger for my first panic attack. 

What happens when the music stops? What happens when Dartmouth isn’t the joy-filled, “doing fine” experience that we are promised and often buy into? 

“To remain so close to Dartmouth is to touch the fire and be consumed.”

This is not to say that Trips is harmful to Dartmouth — in fact, I believe it is the most important and most necessary way to improve Dartmouth’s future. This is to say that Dartmouth as an institution, as a pervasive culture, can have the potential to harm. To remain so close to Dartmouth is to touch the fire and be consumed.

This was not my first experience feeling harmed by Dartmouth. Each week that I practiced with Dimensions, I wanted to leave its insane social pressures. My English Foreign Study Program was my most lonely (and expensive) term of college. And the Greek system — where to begin? It permits students to abuse substances as coping mechanisms and fosters harmful expressions of masculinity, which includes — but is not limited to — sheltering perpetrators of sexual violence. I admit that I have benefited from this institution and, at times, promoted an image of Dartmouth-ness. It was not until my sophomore summer that I distanced myself from my affiliation. Hearing harmful remarks at the annual Voices of Summer performance made by a member of my own fraternity forced me to confront the double standard I held: that my “nice guy” house — that I  — perpetuated the violence of the Greek system.

What happens when the music stops? What happens when you recognize that normative Dartmouth is harmful to you or severely violent toward your community?

Perhaps the realization is set off by a failed test, a sexist and racist op-ed, misogynistic acts of vandalism or public demonstrations of racism, all of which have occurred in my past four years. Or maybe it is set off by the gross failure of the College and the Dartmouth community to support survivors of sexual violence and prevent harm against its students. It is no wonder why so many Dartmouth students become jaded, disillusioned from the promises of good or of change. Perhaps then, I am foolish for continuing to want something more from Dartmouth, for daring to hope that there might be good and change in Dartmouth’s future.

“What happens when the you recognize that normative Dartmouth is harmful to you or severely violent toward your community?”

Back at the bench, heart pounding and chest balled into a massive beating fist, I called my best friend Matt, praying that he would pick up. He did, he listened and he calmed me through my panic attack. My friends are why I have hope. Because in the midst of the trauma and violence, and in the midst of all the academic, career and social pressures of Dartmouth, there is always some light to save me. When the music stops, my best friend picks up the phone. When the music stops, my friends and communities catch me and challenge me to do the same for others. I would not be who I am today if it weren’t for the people who dedicated the time and energy to educate me. Now, when the music stops for someone else, I ask myself, how can I support them? How can I create a community that is safe and inclusive?

To love Dartmouth at a distance is not to remove one’s self from the experiences like those mentioned above. To love Dartmouth at a distance is to view Dartmouth with greater perspective, in the hopes that with a wider lens, we might listen to critiques, empathize with experiences unlike our own and then take action. To choose inaction or deny that these issues exist is to be complicit in the pain of our Dartmouth peers.

The burden of changing Dartmouth should not be left to those harmed by it. Instead, we who have access to the mainstream of Dartmouth have the most power to improve the institution. We must confront its faults in order to protect and cherish that which we love about the College, including its community. 

For the new and future students of Dartmouth, I welcome you. I hope that my experience is useful to you, that you allow yourself to feel angry and frustrated at Dartmouth’s failures and choose to act when those in your community are harmed. And when the music stops, I hope you know that there are people here working to make Dartmouth better, dancing to our own beat.