TTLG: On Being an Unwilling GDI
I first heard about Dartmouth as a high school sophomore. I was sitting in my honors English class when I overheard a junior say that Dartmouth was her dream school. At that point, I was still well over a year away from spending mental energy on college applications. I had always envisioned myself attending the University of Texas at Austin. Regardless, the idea of Dartmouth must have clattered around in my subconscious for a while because when it came time to apply to some dream schools, Dartmouth made the cut along with Harvard, Stanford and Yale.
After having been accepted into the UT-Austin Business Honors program, I was so convinced I would be attending UT that I completely forgot about my other applications until I checked my email on March 31 — or as it was known that year, “Ivy Day.” There was no camera set up to film my reaction, no immediate family members to watch as I opened the email. I was still at my high school, sitting in a classroom with my journalism teacher, who was busy checking her own emails. Knowing that I would have to contain my excitement for over an hour if I had been accepted — my mom was the first person I wanted to break the news to — I opened the email right then and there. The first thing I saw was virtual confetti.
I made some wonderful memories over the course of my freshman year. I loved First-Year Trips and consider myself lucky to have been part of the last class to experience the original Lodge. My freshman floor grew incredibly close, often playing games of Mario Kart and Mafia that lasted well into the night. We even visited New York City, which was an incredible experience. I joined The Dartmouth and the Film Society, two organizations that I remained a part of for the rest of my time at Dartmouth. I very quickly discovered that I did not want to major in economics and shifted to film and media studies — a decision I have never regretted. Green Key was a fitting climax to both spring term and my freshman year.
That’s not to say that I didn’t make some bad memories too. Both my trip leader and Dimensions applications were rejected. I was not adequately prepared for the rigor of college academics, and my high school self would have been ashamed of the GPA I sported at the end of the academic year. However, as I boarded the Dartmouth Coach at the end of freshman spring, the only thing on my mind was returning to campus.
No one tells you that after your freshman year, nothing really stays the same. While I am blessed to still count some of my first-year floormates among my closest friends, the rest of those friendships largely dissipated over the years. Chalk it up to the D-Plan, rush, the personal growth that everyone undergoes during their time at Dartmouth — or the fact that the only thing we had in common in the first place was living on the same freshman floor. Either way, my desire to create more close friendships, along with the prevalence of the Greek system on campus, led directly to my decision to rush.
Like many other students at Dartmouth, I would have likely never rushed had I attended another college. But because the social scene at Dartmouth essentially begins and ends with the Greek system, and because I wanted nothing more than to find a house to call my own, rushing seemed like the logical next step.
For the first three weeks of sophomore fall, I spent every on-night at one particular fraternity, determined to become a brother there. Having visited many of the fraternities over the course of my freshman year, I thought I had found the right house for me. It was all for naught. Two nights before shakeout, the fraternity’s rush chair told me that I would not be receiving a bid. He added that other fraternities — fraternities where I was not interested in shaking out — would be happy to extend me a bid and wished me well.
I returned to my room that night in a state of complete devastation. As most of my closest friends were either not rushing or not on campus, I felt crushingly alone. It sounds stupid now, but how could I not? In my mind, I had just wasted a year of my life attempting to find the house where I would be able to build friendships that would extend well past my time at Dartmouth. My rejection signified not only rejection by a single individual, but by an entire brotherhood that had deemed me unworthy of joining their organization.
I racked my brain trying to figure out where I had messed up. Were the on-campus organizations I was involved in not good enough, not cool enough? Was it because I went to public school? Was it because I wasn’t a legacy? Was it because I was brown? However absurd the question, it probably popped into my head at some point over the next few days. My self-confidence was shattered.
A few days later, I ended up shaking out at another fraternity. As I waited in my room afterwards, I felt the pit in my stomach growing larger and larger with every tick of the clock, watching on Snapchat as more and more of my classmates received bids. At around 1:30 a.m., I received a blitz that confirmed what I already knew: I would not be receiving a bid.
The following day, after rushing another fraternity, I was told to return to my room to await their decision. Instead, I made the trek across campus from Gold Coast to Triangle House, where I visited one of my closest friends. That night, we watched one of my favorite films of all time, “20th Century Women.” The warmth I felt that night, both from my friend and the film, nearly brought me to tears.
The week of rush, I learned that the exclusivity of most Greek organizations is fundamentally incompatible with the messages of inclusivity that they direct toward freshmen. Whether I like it or not, and whether or not it feels stupid to admit it, my Dartmouth experience was fundamentally altered by that weekend’s events. I had, rather unwillingly, become a GDI.
There are only a few people at Dartmouth that have heard me talk about my rush week experience in full. I mean, why would I want to talk about it? At the moment, I felt like a complete failure. But I share this story now with the hope that freshmen who choose to rush this fall, in whatever form that might take, will not let the rush process define their self-worth.
To the freshmen: Some of you will not receive a bid from your preferred house. You will feel hurt. You will feel rejected. You might even feel like you don’t belong at Dartmouth. I promise you that it’s not the end of the world. It might take time, but you will find your place here.
Compared to my freshman year, the highs of my sophomore year were few and far between. Having been rejected by the system, Greek houses now felt very unwelcoming, and I struggled with the feeling that I had been cut off from the Dartmouth social scene by factors beyond my control. It wasn’t until a few weeks before my junior year that I once again felt at home at Dartmouth, when I co-led a First-Year Trip. Funnily enough, I co-led the same trip that I had participated in as a freshman — Hiking 2: Moose Mountain and Holt’s Ledge. Spending five days in the New Hampshire wilderness with a group of freshmen and an incredible co-leader was a remarkable experience that reminded me of just how good Dartmouth can be.
Once I was back on campus, I felt a renewed sense of confidence. My junior spring, I joined The Tabard, following in the footsteps of some of my freshman floormates and closest friends. Over a year and a half had passed since I first rushed, but I had finally found a house to call my own. As a senior, I was part of H-Croo, which was undoubtedly one of the high points of my Dartmouth experience. I served as one of The Dartmouth’s managing editors, stepped out of my comfort zone and acted in a staged reading of my close friend’s play “Tires of a Dream,” co-wrote a short play for the Wired! competition, visited Upper Valley restaurants that I had not yet experienced and was in the middle of shooting a short film when the COVID-19 pandemic upended our day-to-day lives.
Like many of my classmates, I wasn’t ready for my time at Dartmouth to come to an end. For the last several weeks, I have struggled with the feelings that have accompanied this sudden shift and the memories that now only exist conceptually. Seeing as I just turned 21 in April, I was supposed to finally have my first Molly’s marg and Han Fusion scorpion bowl. I was supposed to finally participate in a game of Salt Hill trivia. I was supposed to teach a friend who had somehow evaded pong during her four years at Dartmouth the rules of the game. And no matter who headlined the concert, this year’s Green Key was going to be a blast. Senior spring was supposed to be the peak.
When I arrived on campus my freshman fall, I could have never imagined what the next four years of my life would have looked like. As Greta Gerwig’s character in “20th Century Women” says, “Whatever you think your life is going to be like, just know, it’s not gonna be anything like that.” Thank you Dartmouth, for the good and the bad, the expected and the unexpected, the euphoria and the hurt. It all made me who I am today. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Anthony Robles ’20 is a former managing editor of The Dartmouth.