In the age of COVID-19, we have often looked for comfort in generalizations. For instance, take the sentence you just read. Since March, our society has defined the current moment as a distinct “age” — novel and different from everything we knew before the pandemic. And to understand this bizarre time, we’ve relied on the most mundane of phrases. These are “unprecedented times.” We struggle through “an era of uncertainty.” We adjust to “the new normal.”
Here at Mirror, we have frequently used terms like these. Throughout spring, summer and fall, we have investigated ways in which Dartmouth has adapted to the pandemic, describing broad shifts from “before” to “after” COVID-19. By reflecting these changes back to our community, we hope to capture a unique moment in Dartmouth’s history. But increasingly, we also want to step beyond generalizations and uncover the specific fears, experiences and silver linings that make the current moment unique.
In this week’s issue, we offer several distinct descriptions of campus life. We explore how the library has transformed from a social hub to a quiet, socially distant space. We investigate the freshman social experience, student political engagement and auditions for a capella, dance and acting groups. And finally, with help from Rauner Special Collections Library, we relay how Dartmouth handled an earlier public health crisis: smallpox in the late 18th century. Through these narratives, we hope to capture the nuanced experiences of Dartmouth students this term. The phrase “unprecedented times” only takes us so far, so read on for the real story.