Dartmouth affinity groups provide support, community

The large number of identity-based groups at the College offers a variety of different communities for students from different backgrounds.

by Pierce Wilson and Sabrina Eager | 9/7/21 5:20am

affinity-groups
by Lila Hovey / The Dartmouth Staff

This article is featured in the 2021 Freshman special issue.

Even with Dartmouth’s relatively small student population, the diversity on campus is reflected in the number of affinity groups available for students to join. Affinity groups on campus range from residential communities and Greek organizations to interest- and identity-based groups. Some of these communities are based on finding mutual support or forming social connections, while others provide professional resources and focus on networking.

Residential Affinity Groups

At Dartmouth, identity-based residential life can be found through Living Learning Communities. There are LLCs for various interests, including those centered on identity and language. 

Triangle House is a standalone LLC located near the East Wheelock residential cluster that provides a community for students who identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. Residents and other community members — including allies of the LGBTQ+ community — attend meals together, such as the annual National Coming Out Day BBQ hosted on the Triangle House lawn and dinners hosted in conjunction with the Office of Pluralism and Leadership.  

One such student, a member of the Class of 2023 who requested anonymity to maintain her privacy among family, lived in Triangle House her freshman year. She said that some of the highlights of the community included the live-in advisors and the connections she was able to make with upperclassmen, though she acknowledged that there were only three freshmen living in the house.

“It’s not the end-all, be-all of finding other LGBT people on campus, but it was a good place to start,” she said. “It was very positive to have a space that I didn’t have to come out in.”

The Shabazz Center for Intellectual Inquiry is another standalone LLC. Shabazz, which is affiliated with Dartmouth’s African and African American Studies program, offers a space for Black students from a variety of backgrounds to live together and provoke intellectual dialogue on campus. Students living in the LLC also gather for weekly dinners, where residents come together in small groups to cook for each other. 

Denzel Davis ’23 decided to live in Shabazz after staying in the center during Dimensions, Dartmouth’s admitted students program that usually runs in the month of April. 

“I got the opportunity to just be submerged in the area even before coming to Dartmouth,” Davis said. “It was a space that I wanted to be a part of.”

Davis said that Shabazz eased his transition to the College, which he noted is a predominantly white institution, by alleviating some of the “culture shock” he felt when he arrived. 

“It helped me a lot,” he said. “It gave me the confidence to move around this campus. Just knowing that there are people who look like me, that can relate to the things that I've dealt with, it helped a lot.”

Another residential affinity group is La Casa, an immersive Spanish language environment located near the McLaughlin dorm cluster that houses students and live-in advisors. Students not living in the house can join residents for “El Cafecito,” a weekly event at which coffee and tea are served and students at all levels of Spanish proficiency can sharpen their skills through conversation with other community members.

While not LLCs, Greek organizations can also offer a space for those seeking a live-in community of individuals with common identities. This is particularly true of gender-inclusive Greek houses, explained Brandon Hill ’23, a member of the gender-inclusive Greek house Alpha Theta and treasurer of the Gender Inclusive Greek Council. The three GIGC organizations are Alpha Theta, The Tabard co-ed fraternity, and Phi Tau co-ed fraternity.

“I wouldn't say that Alpha Theta or Tabard or Phi Tau are the ‘gay house,’” Hill said. “I would just say that by virtue of the culture that we try to foster — one that is just nice and accepting of people and valuing other people — we tend to attract people of more diverse backgrounds.”

The National Panhellenic Council is a group of nine historically Black fraternities and sororities that have chapters at colleges and universities all over the country; it’s common to hear these houses referred to as “‘the Divine Nine.”’ There are three NPHC chapters currently active at Dartmouth: the Theta Zeta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., the Xi Lambda Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and the Pi Theta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. 

Former NPHC president and member of Alpha Phi Alpha Miles Battle ’21 said that he did not intend to join Greek life when he arrived at Dartmouth. 

“As a football player, I was around members of [Gamma Delta Chi fraternity], which is predominantly white,” Battle said. “It didn’t seem to have much of a purpose other than social life and drinking. I wasn't really into drinking and I felt like I could socialize with people on my own.” 

Battle said that he learned about Alpha Phi Alpha at the end of his freshman year, and that he appreciated its emphasis on building the leadership capabilities of its members and its strong code of conduct.

Interest-Related Groups

Aside from residential life, some students form communities through shared passions and identities. Students with pre-professional interests who want to find resources and networking connections can join organizations such as the Dartmouth Minority Pre-Law Association

Several campus affinity groups also focus on the performing arts. These include theater groups, such as the Black Underground Theatre & Arts Association, and affinity-based dance groups, like Dartmouth Asian Dance Troupe, which performs traditional Chinese dances and K-pop covers; Raaz, a South Asian fusion dance team and SOYEYA, an African dance troupe. 

People of Color Outdoors is another interest-based affinity group on campus. POCO is one of the sub-clubs of the Dartmouth Outing Club, and aims to provide access to the outdoors for people who have been historically or systematically excluded from activities such as camping and climbing or who otherwise feel uncomfortable in other DOC sub-clubs. 

Daniel Lin ’23, a member of POCO and a certified leader for the group, said he appreciates the accessibility of POCO. 

“I get to lead hikes for people who have never been in the outdoors before,” Lin said. “It is not even like they haven't been on hikes at Dartmouth, they just have never been hiking. I think [leading those trips is] a very, very rewarding experience. Not only to expand those resources around, but also to communicate that they can do this too.”

Even though Lin only became heavily involved in POCO this past spring, he appreciates the connections he has already made through the group. 

“POCO has really provided a lot of upperclassmen for me that I really look up to, even though I've only known them for one term,” he said.

Religious Organizations

Other groups on campus allow students to form connections with peers who practice the same religion. 

Hillel is one of the College’s faith-based groups that connects people of Jewish faith on campus. The group is located at the Roth Center for Jewish Life at the northwest corner of campus near the Choates residential cluster. Hillel hosts various events for Dartmouth students including weekly meetings, Shabbat dinners and celebrations for each of the Jewish holidays.

Emma Briskin ’23, who has been involved with Hillel since her freshman year and has held various positions on the executive board, said that she found community at Hillel during her first term on campus. 

“When I came to Dartmouth, it was the first time that I didn’t feel the same community that I had felt at home in terms of being around other Jewish people,” Briskin said. “I realized that it was comforting to be in that space, to be around people who had had similar upbringings as I did. Being able to celebrate Shabbat and the holidays gave me a grounding presence in my life.”

Many of the community-building events offered at Hillel — such as Jew Crew, a weekly dinner open exclusively to freshmen — involve bonding over meals. 

“Every Thursday, the freshmen would go to Hillel, and one of them would order a bunch of food from somewhere in town,” Briskin said. 

She noted that she bonded with other freshmen over eating takeout at Jew Crew dinners as well as the easy access to the supply of cookie dough in the freezer at the Roth Center.

Al-Nur is another religiously affiliated group on campus that offers a space for Muslim students. They host weekly events such as lectures on religious practice and history of stigma and inclusivity within the Muslim community. Al-Nur also hosts events to celebrate holidays — for example, Aleemah Williams ’24, who has held multiple positions in Al-Nur, said that students made s’mores together in front of Collis for Ramadan last year. 

Williams also spoke about the religious aspect of the organization and had a word of advice to freshmen planning to join organizations such as Al-Nur. 

“Definitely make sure you stay grounded in what you believe in, even when joining these groups, and remember how important it is that you continue to build that connection of your own,” she said.

In terms of Christian life at Dartmouth, there are various organizations, including the Christian Union.

Tulio Huggins ’23 said he joined CU his freshman fall after learning about the organization through his Dimensions host. 

“It was really nice to have a spot to hang out either for Bible study or just hanging out with other Christians,” Higgins said.

CU, along with other Christian groups on campus, hosts a weekly “Christian Waffles” event during weekend nights when students can come to the Rockefeller Center overhang for free, freshly-made waffles. Huggins said that helping to run the event has helped him connect with students in other campus religious organizations.

“It’s nice to have friends in CU who are also doing waffles with me, and it’s just a nice time every week to see a bunch of my friends while also having other friends from different Christian groups on campus join in,” Huggins said.

Jonathan Lim ’23, on the other hand, is part of Agape, a Christian organization that primarily provides space for Asian students, which he describes as his “primary source of community” on campus. He said the organization has “really helped [him] lean into [his] Asian identity.” 

“It's allowed me to dive deeper into my faith,” Lim said. “Being able to talk with peers about some more difficult issues — people that are wiser than me, people who are still new to the faith, people with differing levels of experience with Christianity — has been really just fruitful for me.”

Cultural Affinity Groups

Aside from religious groups, there are also identity-specific clubs to connect individuals with similar cultural backgrounds. Some of these groups include the Dartmouth Brazilian Society, the Korean Students Association and the Dartmouth Chinese Culture Society.

Native Americans at Dartmouth, another one of these groups, connects Indigenous students to each other, to alums and to faculty and staff affiliated with the Native American Studies department. The group hosts community events each term and invites students and faculty affiliated with NAS and their families. These include community dinners and an annual student-run Powwow on the Green, the second largest Powwow in the Northeast.

Ahnili Johnson-Jennings ’23, an active member of NAD who has also been a member of the group’s leadership, discovered the community years before becoming a student. Her father and sister both went to Dartmouth, and the Indigenous community they found on campus inspired her, she said.

“My dad was actually the whole reason I came to Dartmouth,” Johnson-Jennings said. "So upon arrival, I knew I was going to be a part of the group. I did the Indigenous Fly-In Program and then immediately fell in love with [the College] and the community. I attended the Dartmouth Native American pre-orientation before freshmen fall, and then from there, I just always saw this as a home community, as a home base.”

Many students who find home within their affinity groups have similar advice for incoming students.

“Dartmouth is a really diverse place, and it can be really exciting to meet people who are very different from you and have been raised in very different situations,” Briskin said. “But it is perfectly okay to embrace the culture, religion and space you come from and are a part of independently. You can look for and have groups of people that can relate to you while also getting to meet so many diverse people and learn about new things.” 

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