Opinion Asks: Turning Over a New Leaf?

As Dartmouth has largely resumed its pre-pandemic operations, what are the most prominent challenges students have faced?

by The Dartmouth Opinion Staff | 9/30/21 4:00am

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by Julia Siegel / The Dartmouth

The beginning of this term represents a welcome return to the normal Dartmouth experience for many in the College community.  Yet, this transition has nonetheless been accompanied by challenges and uncertainty. For example, last week The Dartmouth’s Editorial Board criticized the long lines at dining halls and argued that the current state of campus dining was untenable. The week prior, the Editorial Board urged students to be patient and kind and refrain from “discount[ing], delegitimiz[ing] and dismiss[ing] the experiences of [their] peers” following “a disrupted and tumultuous year.” To this end, what do you believe are some of the most prominent challenges students have faced so far this term, and, in your opinion, would these challenges have existed in a pre-pandemic world?

I think that all of us, to varying extents, have felt the friction of this supposed “Year of Homecoming” that President Hanlon announced, most heavily dragged down under that distant phrase of “return to normalcy.” Part of the promise of widespread vaccinations (our campus now stands at a 96% vaccination rate) last spring has seemed to crumble under the hypocritical fervency of indoor masking — despite widespread, close-contact outdoor gatherings (not the least of which were hosted by the College itself, including Fallapalooza, the Twilight Ceremony, and more). There’s also the lack of connection to the College that impedes both the ’24s and ’25s (and to a certain degree the ’23s as well) as a consequence of not having experienced Dartmouth for what it was — or perhaps better put, what it should be.

Matthew Capone ’24

Last year, students may have complained that there was not enough to do, while this year it almost seems like there is too much to do. This is not necessarily a bad thing – it is far better than the alternative – but it is certainly challenging for students who must now determine how to balance the demands of normal student life after an eighteen-month-long hiatus. At times, it seems like there are not enough hours in the day, as the combined resumption of in-person classes, club meetings, social activities and sports practices feels more like a tidal wave of nonstop action crashing down on students’ heads. This feeling is an expected consequence of the long-awaited “return to normal” and one that will diminish with time, but for now, it is overwhelming and thrilling all at once.

— Thomas de Wolff ’24

Whenever I speak with relatives or family friends, I’m always asked some form of “how’s college going?” Without fail, I struggle to answer. The pandemic has meant that the whole concept of college was never firmly implanted into my head. I usually end up muddling through some sort of polite non-answer because I just don’t know what to say. I spent my first year staring at a computer screen in a little dorm room that could have been anywhere. I’m not studying on campus this fall, so I’m missing all the remedial first-year ceremonies for ’24s. I’ll have gone a year and a half before first setting foot in a Dartmouth classroom this winter. I’ve met a grand total of two Dartmouth professors in real life. What claim do my peers and I have to being “real” Dartmouth students when our whole experience has been ersatz at best? Do we all really belong or fit in here? Will we look back in fifty years fondly or with regret? I’ve told myself that perhaps it’s the best introduction to the tumultuous real world I could have gotten, but that’s still a quite bitter pill. I suspect I’m not the only one who feels this way.

— Thomas Lane ’24

While it is true that the dining lines have been an inconvenience this term, it’s unfair to make the claim that the pandemic has had a significant impact on 21F. Apart from wearing a mask indoors, I feel that I’ve been able to enjoy the start of my freshman year at Dartmouth as if the pandemic had never happened at all. However, some students have been frustrated with   inconsistencies in the College’s  masking policies — while the school has hosted events with hundreds of students packed sardine-style in an auditorium, one is unable to lower their mask to eat a snack during class. These inconsistencies might be chalked up to the unfamiliarity of pandemic life, but a re-evaluation of Dartmouth’s masking requirements would definitely be welcome by the student body.

— Brandon Mioduszewski ’25

Reflecting on this prompt, the first thing that popped into my head was, well, a lack of thoughts. So far, I believe that Dartmouth has actually done an exceptional job managing year two of COVID-19, and there isn’t one pressing issue that seems to have eclipsed the student body yet. Of course, the student body is stressed, and confused, and more than a little annoyed at the amount of all-school club emails shoved down their throats, but in general, it seems like we’re doing remarkably well. However, the stark contrast between the administration’s execution of this year compared to last has not gone unnoticed —  particularly by the Class of 2024. Therefore, I think that the most prominent challenge to the student body might actually be a minimization of last year’s events. Even as we’re able to enjoy full-capacity classes and business-as-usual dining halls, we complain about five-minute lines at Class of 1953 Commons and the (totally inevitable) “freshman flu.” Of course, things aren’t perfect, but by aggressively pointing out each flaw of this year, we fail to recognize exactly how much better we have it than those on campus last fall. I’m not telling you to stop complaining — but maybe give your local ’24 a pat on the back.

— Jeremy Gart ’25

The novelty of this term lies in the notion that it’s unlike any other that has preceded it, however it’s in that same sentiment that one can find the most critical challenge students face. In fact, the students of this term must answer some of the most pressing questions that have been asked of Dartmouth students since its initial founding. The questions are those of rebuilding; how should we, as a Dartmouth community, rebuild what has evidently crumbled at the hands of the pandemic? This will  not be an easy task, and yet it is one that our students should find solace in, as we find ourselves in a moment  in which true change can be enacted. This moment is for everyone who has ever wished to do better in this world; one to redefine what was once considered normal — a word that no longer has any relevance to the lives we currently lead. For Dartmouth, an institution so rooted in its cultures and traditions, this is a moment of reflection as to what these traditions truly mean. To almost all of its current student body, pre-pandemic Dartmouth is merely a stranger, but as the autumn leaves change and fall only to grow again next spring, Dartmouth and its students can use this opportunity to flourish once again.

— Selin Hos ’25

I can’t see my classmates, I can’t hear my professors, and I can’t recognize my colleagues on the street. The obvious challenges of going back to school this term, or starting a new chapter in school in my case, would be having to waste so much time waiting in line for your meal or your COVID-19 test. Although viable technological alternatives exist, like pre-ordering your meals digitally or take-home covid test kits, I think I am tired of ordering everything online and am craving that human interaction which is made unimaginable with long queues. The other, more frustrating challenge for me would be not recognizing my classmates on campus simply because I have never seen their faces without masks on. This is not to suggest that masks should be discarded altogether, but they definitely continue to put a strain on social relations.

— Tala Majzoub GR

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