Generations of Community — Or Lack Thereof
While passing through the Baker Library lobby (also known as “blobby”), one is often too focused on greeting friends or assessing the KAF line to notice the glass cases featuring special exhibits. I am certainly guilty of this obliviousness — I seldom, if ever, stop to appreciate the carefully-curated collection of artifacts and historical blurbs right before my eyes.
The library’s current exhibition in the Baker Library Main Hall is “Generations of Community,” which “explores the ways in which fellowship has and has not been manifested throughout the history of the College,” according to the project description.
Caitlin Deerin ’22 said she normally does not notice these exhibits.
“I didn’t really know what they were about. I guess I could’ve stopped, but I didn’t,” Deerin said.
Deerin added that this exhibit, however, seems especially relevant given that “The idea of community is really ingrained into Dartmouth’s fabric and our culture, whether it’s clubs, or Trips or anything else.”
The project is the third in a four-part series of exhibits, which are a part of the library’s contribution to Dartmouth’s 250th anniversary celebrations. Shaun Akhtar, a metadata librarian and one of the co-curators of the “Generations of Community Exhibit,” elaborated on the exhibits’ origins.
“[The library staff] decided to curate a number of exhibits that explored the College’s history through fairly broad lenses, and these were defined based on some of the pillars the College identified as its own general celebration.”
The first exhibit, “On Solid Ground,” explored the geographies of the College, specifically through a sense of place. The second exhibit, “Curriculum Vitae,” traced the history of the liberal arts on campus and the fourth exhibit goes up next month and will be titled “Adventurous Spirit.”
The “Generations of Community” exhibit envisions Dartmouth as a universe of communities. It paints Dartmouth as a community — including the students, families, alumni, faculty and staff — and it also looks at sub-communities within Dartmouth, such as sports teams, clubs and Greek organizations.
Akhtar told me the library’s team of curators started research for this exhibit in late summer 2017. He said that it was impossible to be entirely comprehensive because of the plethora of material available in the College’s collections, so he approached the project with the goal of wanting to learn as much as possible and present a multifaceted picture, highlighting a diverse range of experiences.
Akhtar said for him and his co-curators, the project was an opportunity to use the resources the Dartmouth collections offer to critically examine the changing ideas of fellowship and community throughout the College’s history.
“We hope it will cause visitors to examine and consider communities they’ve participated in, sought, or built at Dartmouth,” Akhtar said.
The exhibit is divided into six panels, each exploring community in a different way. The first panel is entitled “Coming to Dartmouth.” It examines people’s entrance to the Dartmouth community, including First-Year Trips, historical and modern Orientation Week programming, and the Homecoming bonfire.
Among other less predictable items, this section features “freshmen beanies,” a lost College tradition wherein freshmen were required to purchase caps so that members of the entering class would be more easily identifiable to upperclassmen. The tradition lasted about 60 years, ending with the Class of 1973.
Akhtar highlighted one artifact in this panel, which he said he was especially excited to find in his research. The “Dartmouth Disorientation” guide was an unofficial guide created for the incoming Class of 1972 by a collection of upperclassmen who wanted to offer a more honest look at the realities and challenges of the College.
Akhtar said he likes this piece because it demonstrates the multiplicity of the Dartmouth community.
“It is a representation of how there are multiple pathways to this community, to learn about its pros and cons, and to think about how students and alumni look out for one another, to try and build a better community looking at circumstances in which the College maybe hasn’t lived up to its ideals,” he said.
The second panel, “Living Communities,” explores how living environments have influenced students’ sense of community, or lack thereof, in Hanover. The panel references the communities of freshmen floors and alternative campus living environments, like Living and Learning Communities. However, the dominant focus of the panel’s examination of living communities is Greek life at Dartmouth.
The exhibit explores both the positive and negative cultural consequences of the rise of fraternities as a source community at Dartmouth.
“The rise of fraternities in the early 19th century provided student- controlled social spaces and new opportunities for intellectual growth ... they have given students a sense of belonging, but they have also perpetuated patterns of discrimination and have been a frequent subject of campaigns for social justice,” a placard read.
The referenced “campaigns for social justice” include a 1954 student body vote to prohibit recognition of fraternities considering race, religion or national origin in their new member evaluations.
The exhibit’s third panel is “The Big Green” and spotlights the College’s various varsity, club and intramural sports. Team photos range from the 1897 varsity football team to the 2015 Big Green Football Team taking home the Ivy League Championship title.
The panel also includes a history of Dartmouth’s mascot before it was the Big Green. Until 1971, the sports teams were known unofficially as “the Indians.” A group of Native Americans at Dartmouth eventually released a statement declaring that “various traditions and symbols used by the Dartmouth community are based upon insensitivity to the culture of Native American Peoples” and requested the College cease usage of the Indian symbol.
The fourth panel, “Creation and Collaboration,” analyzes arts and culture as unifying forces, facilitating fellowship through shared creation. The panel also appreciates the role the arts have played in both portraying inclusive and exclusive college communities. One such example of art critiquing exclusivity at Dartmouth is “You Laugh,” a play in which a group of nine female students speak out about hostile and sexist behavior they had witnessed. An excerpt from the script states that “It is difficult for an individual woman to stand up against the Dartmouth traditions which insult and degrade her and serve to alienate her from other women and from men.”
The fifth panel, entitled “Round the Girdled Earth ...” focuses on how the Dartmouth community operates outside of Hanover through alumni. The College is famous for its tightly- knit alumni network, which often maintains and builds connections between alumni and current students. The panel features reunion posters, photos of alumni, and old issues at Dartmouth Alumni Magazine.
Eileen Cave ’76 reflected in an oral history interview that alumni can choose what a comfortable level of engagement looks like for them.
“[My engagement] has gone up and down. And [now] it’s back up again, because at this stage in my life, I look at it and think: ‘Okay, now it’s time for you to give back. Now it’s time for you to be a mentor.’”
Cave’s mentality is reflected by a long history of engaged alumni. College President John Sloan Dickey ’29 regularly concluded his Commencement addresses with the promise that the word is ‘so long,’ because in the Dartmouth fellowship there is no parting.”
The sixth and final panel is entitled “The Next Chapter.” Like the previous panel, it focuses on alumni, but more specifically on their relationship with the College as a whole after graduation than with each other.
In a quote displayed in this case, Gregorio A. Millett ’90 reflects on how his time at Dartmouth affected his alumni experience.
“I think there are a lot of us who have a very complicated relationship with the school ... We’re really glad that we had the opportunities that we had at Dartmouth. But I don’t feel the same about the traditions of Dartmouth, you know, that fellow [alumni] do, who primarily are white, and others, about having to come back every year or this type of allegiance to the school, because it was a really difficult experience,” his statement reads.
Though the College often showcases proud alumni who point to Dartmouth as some of the best years of their lives, other alumni share Millet’s complicated relationship with the College after graduation.
The case features a critique from Ed Hermance ’62 condemning the College’s unwillingness to include sexual orientation in its non- discrimination policy and speaking to the “fear and loathing of gay people” in the student body during his time at Dartmouth.
Scotty Tamkin ’22 said that seeing the exhibit gave him renewed gratitude for the progress the College has made.
“I realized how fortunate I am to be at Dartmouth today instead of a few decades ago ... Dartmouth still has so much more work to do before it can be called perfect, but I’m inspired to keep standing up against barriers to building our community, such as sexism, racism and homophobia,” Tamkin said.
The “Generations of Community” exhibit, as well as the three other 250th celebration exhibits, is available online so that alumni and other remote community members can experience the exhibit. However, for those of us on campus, the exhibit is one worth stopping at blobby and looking behind the glass cases for.