Levy: Dartmouth as We Know It

Dartmouth must take steps to preserve its community.

by Gabrielle Levy | 5/11/20 2:00am

Countless news articles warn us that even after shelter-in-place orders are lifted and the majority of businesses reopen, the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to impact our world. Though it can feel like an insular microcosm, Dartmouth will not be immune to long-term change. The consequences of the shift to remote learning have the potential to drastically alter current students’ Dartmouth experiences. In light of this, Dartmouth must take measures to preserve key traditions and retain student connection to the College. 

As the smallest of the eight Ivy League colleges, Dartmouth prides itself on small class sizes, close professor-student interactions and a tight-knit, engaged community. Moreover, Dartmouth’s emphasis on the outdoors makes it highly locale-oriented. Try as you might, you can’t emulate the Connecticut River, Mount Moosilauke or the Dartmouth Skiway online. As a result, in the face of coronavirus, Dartmouth’s biggest selling points could become its downfall. Remote learning will eradicate the exact experiences that make Dartmouth so special. 

Take sophomore summer for instance. Current sophomores will not be able to come back to campus this summer, and many will not be able to partake in a summer term next year either. This means that my class — the Class of 2022 — will have neither the opportunity to experience Dartmouth summer traditions nor to bond like other classes have before us. No matter how you cut it, we will miss out on significant Dartmouth milestones. 

All classes will suffer to a degree. Seniors, for instance, have lost their final chances to solidify relationships and celebrate four meaningful years of their lives. And many juniors are experiencing a great disconnect from the Dartmouth community, having been away from campus since their sophomore summer for study abroad programs and off terms. 

Because the coronavirus pandemic has the potential to change the Dartmouth experience for all students, the College should, as it plans for an eventual reopening, ensure that students are still able to connect profoundly with the school. New traditions can be made and proactive measures taken to ensure that students, when they return to campus, still receive the same special dose of Dartmouth that fosters our unique community. 

Dartmouth has long claimed that its high level of alumni support is a direct result of the unique and tight-knit community the institution fosters. In a 2019 interview with The Dartmouth, for example, senior vice president of advancement Robert Lasher stated that Dartmouth’s “exceptional community ... incites our alumni to give back at exceptional levels, defying trends in philanthropy nationwide and the levels among our Ivy League peers.”

But if the Dartmouth experience diminishes as a consequence of remote learning, students may not feel the same pull to the College after graduation as others have before them. As a result, they may not have the same desire to give back — financially or otherwise — which could translate to a longer-term weakening of Dartmouth’s alumni network. 

In this case, what should be done? For one, the College could consider shifting some of the major events from the spring and summer to the fall or winter in order to make up for the loss of shared community experiences. This could take the shape of a celebration of Dartmouth’s reopening in which beloved campus events like Green Key are put on, albeit on a smaller, less time-consuming scale. Dartmouth might also consider offering activities that recall freshmen orientation-week experiences — such as bonfires and bonding events — throughout the term in which students first return to campus. These events should appeal to all classes and aim to make up for the community bonding that was missed out on during remote terms.

It’s inevitable that current students will experience Dartmouth in a way that no students have before. This term has also made it clear that remote learning can in no way replicate the Dartmouth experience. It is now up to the College to ameliorate the damage done to the experiences of those who attend Dartmouth.