Towle: A Weak Welcome

Upperclassmen should work harder this year to make the ’24s feel welcome.

by Sydney Towle | 10/16/20 2:00am

After several college tours, the campuses I visited began to blur together into an indecipherable mix of bookstores and brick buildings. My final tour provided a stark contrast. While not so different from others in architecture or scenery, Dartmouth’s welcoming atmosphere left a memorable first impression. Students, faculty and community members alike greeted me on my tour throughout campus and seemed genuinely eager to see and talk to me. Within my first 10 minutes on Dartmouth’s campus, I knew I was home.

Standing in the socially distanced line at Foco, I was shocked to hear very different perspectives from members of the Class of 2024. The version of Dartmouth I heard them describe during the first few weeks on campus was unwelcoming, unaccepting and generally unpleasant. When saying “hi” or smiling in passing, the ’24s I spoke to said they were greeted with blank stares. When speaking with a ’24 in one of my Zoom breakout rooms, I asked how his time at Dartmouth has been so far. He described a lonely and isolating experience. While we face circumstances that make socializing more difficult this term, this campus should never make people feel unwanted. Dartmouth is often described as a “close-knit community,” but clearly that is not the case for some members of the freshman class. As a community, and as upperclassmen especially, we need to extend the freshman class the same kindness that was afforded to us. 

The majority of us upperclassmen had the opportunity to build friendships through First-Year Trips, running around the Homecoming bonfire together and mingling on the Green or in Collis. These experiences and traditions brought us closer together as classmates and friends, and provided us with support systems necessary to make it through quarantine and physical separation. The Class of 2024 was not granted these same opportunities. They came into Dartmouth without Trips or in-person interaction — which is to say, without the same sense of community that many of us inherited. 

Dartmouth borders on cult-like with our various traditions and rituals. These traditions define what Dartmouth is, and without them, it’s hard to imagine the ’24s will feel nearly as much a part of the Dartmouth community. It is this reputation that draws many students to Dartmouth and what likely influenced the decisions of many members of the Class of 2024. 

In place of these traditions, it is our job as members of the Dartmouth community to make new students feel at home. While we can’t run around the bonfire or complete the polar plunge together, we can smile and make conversation. If we have to wait in longer lines at the Class of ’53 Commons anyway, we might as well make friends along the way. I admit that it can be intimidating to smile or greet a stranger, but I also know how much it makes my day when such a simple act is extended toward me. It’s what made me choose Dartmouth, and it's what makes this campus feel so special. 

It is especially difficult to offer a warm welcome when the majority of upperclassmen aren’t even on campus. There are very few of us to interact with in the first place, making these interactions all the more important. Those of us who are here should be working even harder to compensate for the lack of students. Students who can’t be on campus can also do their part by trying to connect with students virtually. Whether it be through social media or reaching out to a classmate, any effort to make the ’24s feel welcome goes a long way. 

I came into Dartmouth as an anxious ’22, wary of all of the unknown faces around me. My worries faded almost immediately when those unknown faces extended smiles and words of reassurement. Hearing the perspectives of some ’24s, I am extremely disappointed that upperclassmen have not made more of an effort to be welcoming, especially during a time that is already inherently lonely and isolating. We need to ensure we are representing the values that Dartmouth prides itself on. As the Dartmouth community, it is our responsibility to make everyone feel welcome and wanted on this campus.