Verbum Ultimum: A Cold Open

The Class of 2024 should start classes in the winter.

by THE DARTMOUTH EDITORIAL BOARD | 5/29/20 2:00am

The College has yet to announce its decision on the structure of fall term — a formal announcement is slated to be made by June 29.  In a recent installment of his weekly livestream, Provost Joseph Helble said that the COVID-19 task force is looking into a “hybrid operation” for fall term that would see a portion of the student body back on campus. This plan hinges on the million-dollar question: Which students will be allowed on campus come fall?

Much recent discussion has hinged on whether the College will allow freshmen to live on campus. Undoubtedly, the College would want the Class of 2024’s first impression of Dartmouth to be positive. It is for that exact reason that the College should move the Class of 2024’s first term to winter 2021.

The Class of 2024 is the only class whose members have yet to experience a term on Dartmouth’s campus. This could be seen as a motivator for having them on campus in the fall, so as to have a strong in-person start to their time at the College. Dartmouth has an immersive freshman orientation program that includes the First-Year Trips program and orientation week. But if freshmen start their Dartmouth careers on campus this fall, they will not experience the full extent of these programs — just yesterday, the directors of Trips announced that the program would not be held in its traditional outdoor format this year. And when fall term officially starts, the Class of 2024 would arrive at a sparsely populated campus ruled by social regulations and health precautions. 

No matter how you spin it, fall is going to be abnormal. Likely, it will be a term filled with COVID-19 testing and few to no social gatherings. It is vital that new Dartmouth students experience the warmth of the College’s atmosphere, and that they feel supported and welcomed. A rocky start to Dartmouth, void of meaningful connections with peers and the chance to explore all that Dartmouth has to offer, is not one to which the Class of 2024 should be subjected.

The alternative to having freshmen on campus in the fall is not, in fact, requiring ’24s to take an online term. Experiencing the first term of Dartmouth in a remote online format would be an even worse way to start off one’s four years at the College. It would be a shame, and no doubt damaging, for members of the Class of 2024 to begin their college careers without the presence and support of fellow students and faculty. 

Both an online and on-campus fall term, given the limitations to the traditions and experiences that would normally mark a freshman fall, would be less than ideal for freshmen. In light of this, the College should move the first term for the Class of 2024 to winter 2021. This proposed adjustment would solve numerous challenges.

Hopefully, come January, public health concerns raised by COVID-19 will have diminished to the point that a greater portion of the student body will be able to return to campus. Further, social distancing guidelines and group congregation regulations will likely be less strict by the new year. Quintessential first term Dartmouth experiences will in turn be more likely to run.

Last Wednesday, Helble mentioned in his weekly livestream that the College may implement an integrated solution that would see different cohorts of students sharing the burden of remote learning terms over the next year. Having the freshmen conduct their first term in the winter would work seamlessly with this plan. With freshmen unenrolled for the fall, there would be space on campus to bring other classes back to Hanover. Seniors, for example, have the time restriction of graduation next spring. They, unlike the freshman class, do not have the flexibility to delay the start of the academic year.

Of course, not all freshmen will be able to easily delay the start of college by a term. A major financial barrier would afflict students who will need the security offered by financial aid. Acknowledging this, Dartmouth must consider the ways in which it can support freshmen through the fall.

In an ideal world, all four undergraduate classes would be on campus this fall. But we are in a global pandemic, and our expectations must adjust. The College should prioritize the Class of 2024’s transition to Dartmouth and consider the environment in which it wishes to welcome the new class. Bringing freshmen to Dartmouth in the winter will undoubtedly make for a much better first term.  

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