Notes from the Field: Shadowing an Admissions Tour

Tagging along on a virtual tour illuminates how the pandemic has changed the College.

by Pierce Wilson | 9/15/21 2:20am

by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

Admissions tours are the first introduction many future Dartmouth students have to the College, myself included. I still remember driving up from Boston with my dad on a brisk October afternoon during my senior year of high school and learning about all that Dartmouth had to offer. We went into academic buildings, the library and even a dorm. My admissions tour experience sold me on Dartmouth and quelled my fears that I wouldn’t be able to survive the New Hampshire wilderness. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the admissions office has had to adapt its tours to keep tour guides, guests and community members safe. Currently, they offer two types of tours: virtual tours via Zoom and in-person, outdoor-only tours, both of which run for 60 minutes. Both of these tour formats are different from what prospective students would have experienced prior to March 2020, but they have become the way that many prospective students are now introduced to Dartmouth. 

I recently had the opportunity to shadow tour guides Max Breuninger ’23 and Chelsea-Starr Jones ’23 on a virtual tour — as, unfortunately, the in-person ones are unavailable for observation. Shadowing the tour gave me a moment of pause to reflect on my own Dartmouth experience as I enter my third year — and on how the pandemic has redefined many aspects of the College I used to know. 

We set out from Novack Cafe, where Breuninger and Jones introduced themselves and explained what they do on campus. One part about this that stood out to me was when they explained that we go by our class years (e.g “I’m a ’23”) at Dartmouth — and not by the freshman, sophomore, junior and senior labels — to increase our sense of community and connect with alumni. It was odd to hear this explained, as it feels so second-nature to me at this point. Both tour guides did a good job of demystifying some of the more idiosyncratic things about Dartmouth culture like the twilight ceremony, sophomore summer or even “warmcuts.” Having been inside the Dartmouth bubble for so long, I seldom stop to think about how strange some of our customs are. 

At each stop on the tour, either Breuninger or Jones would hold a selfie-stick and talk about the location while the other would stand off to the side. They would also occasionally pan the camera to show guests in the location in question. Throughout the tour, Angie Janumala ’22 answered questions in the Zoom chat from prospective students. One that stood out to me was when the tour guides began their section about Greek life and a prospective student from Greece asked what Greek life is and if it had anything to do with the country. Janumala quickly answered her question and joked that international students from Greece are often confused about Greek life. It was such a sweet interaction to watch, and it made me think about the types of blindspots that we all have. 

After the introductions, Jones gave an Indigenous land acknowledgement and shared an abbreviated history of the College. She began with Eleazar Wheelock and his mission to Christianize local Native Americans, explaining that Dartmouth graduated very few Native students prior to 1970 when then-College President John Kemeny pledged to redress the historical lack of opportunities for Native Americans in higher education. Jones called this a “somewhat problematic past” and then lauded the College for the “vibrant Native American community” that now exists on campus. It’s an explanation that anyone who’s been at Dartmouth for more than a term is familiar with, but felt refreshingly honest for a presentation to people who were not yet members of our community. 

At the same time, I couldn’t help but feel a little uncomfortable during the land acknowledgement. I understand why it’s important to acknowledge that we’re on Abenake land, but it also felt a little tone-deaf coming from an official Dartmouth spokesperson like a tour guide, considering that the College ultimately still owns the land.

From there, Breuninger and Jones led us around most of the central part of campus, stopping at certain highlights like Robinson Hall, the Hopkins Center for the Arts, Fairchild Physical Sciences Center and the Rauner Special Collections Library. 

The tour was fairly accurate — and it would be both immature and a waste of time to go through and point out every small inaccuracy, but at the same time, there were several moments when I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable with the difference between the version of Dartmouth that the tour guides presented to prospective students and what I’ve experienced for the past few years, particularly in the last 18 months of the pandemic. 

For example, when we stopped at House Center B, Jones said that 90% of students stay within the residential system for all four years and that “housing is guaranteed for all four years as a Dartmouth student.” 

Those claims are suspect. For one, the number of students living off campus tripled during the pandemic. And holding the current housing crisis in mind, I couldn’t help but feel a pit in my stomach upon hearing the term ‘guaranteed.’ Similarly, Breuninger at one point lauded the mental health services available on campus — which was particularly uncomfortable to hear after the last year, when anxiety and depression rates skyrocketed and an investigation by The Dartmouth found numerous major issues in the College’s mental health resources. 

At the same time, moments like these gave me a newfound appreciation for just how difficult it must be to be a tour guide at Dartmouth — to honestly share your experiences and also introduce such a unique community to a group of people who are eager to jump into this next step of their lives. After all, if tour guides only talked about what they didn’t like about Dartmouth and didn’t mention any of the world-class resources and opportunities we are provided by the College, they’d run the risk of making all of the serious issues with the College sound like champagne problems. 

My favorite part of the tour was when Breuninger and Jones each discussed their personal reasons for choosing Dartmouth — the same section I found quite impactful when I toured. When asked why they chose their college, I remember the tour guides at the other schools I saw would always respond with a really generic “the community” when asked why they chose their school. This is why it stood out to me when my tour guide here, Sruti Pari ’20, was so genuine in explaining her reason for wanting to come to Dartmouth over anywhere else in the world — and that passion made me want to think more deeply about where I wanted to spend the next four years. 

Correction appended (7:10 p.m., Sept. 17, 2021): A previous version of this article misspelled Eleazar Wheelock’s name. The article has been corrected.