Verbum Ultimum: Rethinking Green Key

An ill-defined tradition opens up opportunities to forge new ones.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 5/17/19 2:15am

For every fall, winter and spring term in the Dartmouth calendar, there is a single weekend reserved for celebration by the Dartmouth community: Homecoming for fall, Winter Carnival for winter and Green Key for spring. However, whereas Homecoming is a time to rekindle the Dartmouth spirit by reconnecting alumni with their alma mater and welcoming freshman into the community, and Winter Carnival showcases the achievements of Dartmouth’s winter sports teams, the College touts Green Key as a weekend to “celebrate the arrival of spring” — a purpose that is hardly Dartmouth-specific. Though at one point Green Key had a community service focus, its emphasis on social service has since slipped away. Now, the weekend more closely resembles earlier traditions of excessive drinking, substance abuse and revelrous traditions such as inebriated, rowdy chariot races across the Green using makeshift chairs and students as “horses,” as well as hazing of the freshman class.

Traditions strengthen the community and are what reinforce a sense of belonging. Whether accepted or not, Green Key has become Dartmouth tradition and is here to stay in the foreseeable future. It’s up to us to bolt through a closing door and take advantage of redefining Green Key’s main purpose as more than just gratuitous binge-drinking to unify more of the community under Dartmouth values and reflect those values for the years to come.

Alongside the fact that Green Key lacks a physical emblem of the celebration to tie it to Dartmouth, such as the Homecoming Bonfire and Winter Carnival Snow Sculpture, such a nebulous assertion as “the celebration of spring” as the purpose behind Green Key lends itself to the perpetuation of negative aspects of traditions — most prominently, heavy drinking culture. This is not to say that the other two big weekends are without binge-drinking or violent elements. For instance, this past Winter Carnival had three arrests in addition to reports of property damage, theft, disorderly conduct and a motor vehicle accident that weekend. Homecoming has had a consistently high record of incidents in recent years, with Safety and Security responding to 66 incidents in 2015, 42 in 2016 and 30 in 2017. In fact, Homecoming is typically the most active weekend for Safety and Security. However, the most heavily publicized activity of Green Key — the Green Key concert performed by an outside artist on Gold Coast Lawn — is in and of itself more prone to heavy drinking as evidenced by the correlation of heavy drinking and similar alcohol-related incidents that occur at other schools during their spring concerts, like the University of Pennsylvania’s Spring Fling or Cornell University’s “Slope Day,” which has also historically had issues with “uncontrolled alcohol consumption.” With drinking so closely tied to outdoor spring college concerts and the outdoor concert promoted as the main Green Key activity, there is more pressure on the student to partake in it in order to be involved and bond with the community.

Additionally, the details and investment leading up to Green Key are only privy to a subset of the entire student population. Whereas the Collis Orientation Team sends out campus- wide blitzes asking for help from all students to build the Homecoming Bonfire and to create ice sculptures for the outdoor showcase and contest during Winter Carnival, opportunities to help with Green Key are not advertised to all of campus. Key information, such as the Green Key artist lineup, is even kept secret until the few days that precede the concert. In this way, Green Key neglects the chance to make the weekend feel like a more open and unified event.

To be clear, there are many positives about Green Key. More than a few students look forward to the weekend to enjoy the warmer weather and de-stress in the midst of a rigorous term. However, drinking culture at Dartmouth has become the most dominant social presence to the extent where it has morphed into the thing most associated with Green Key. But it has the opportunity to be more than that. It is precisely because the meaning of Green Key lacks a larger, established Dartmouth component that it is open to the creation of new traditions that reflect Dartmouth values, and students should take advantage of this opportunity during their time here.

And already, students have forged new Green Key traditions. As recent as within the past decade, a student created Brewhaha: An annual student- run event held during Green Key at Dartmouth’s Organic Farm that has free live music and food and is open to all Dartmouth students. Any Dartmouth student can also be more involved in the event by signing up to volunteer via Brewhaha’s posting on the public Facebook event page. Brewhaha puts an emphasis on local foods and drinks which are “more palatable forms of sustainability” that serve as an example of a public “gateways into a more sustainable and green lifestyle,” as Green Greek intern Dan Lafranier ’17 puts it.

To go against the tide might be to find out what creates it. To evaluate the values, or lack thereof, rooted in our tradition and the social norms that sweep the rest of us with it. To simultaneously strengthen Green Key’s connection to Dartmouth and improve the experience for the Dartmouth community at-large by forging the traditions and legacies we want to leave. Though our time here is short, Dartmouth’s indelible spirit resonates with some of us, and we want to reflect the aspects we have come to love. The opportunity to redefine Green Key is ours for the taking and creativity boundless. The question that then remains is, what matters to us? And how will we show it?

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the issue editors, both executive editors and the editor-in-chief.