For the first time in nearly eighteen months, Dartmouth has welcomed a majority of its undergraduate students back to campus and into classrooms. Many returning students have embraced this development as a welcome return to the Dartmouth of pre-pandemic times. Yet, for many others, this development represents a clear divergence from the Dartmouth experience they have had thus far. In-person classes, non-socially distanced dining halls and open-to-campus events hosted by Greek houses are entirely foreign to many students. For them, the Dartmouth experience they are familiar with is not the one they have encountered upon returning for the fall term.
Members of the Class of 2024 are not the only ones who have encountered a completely new version of Dartmouth upon returning to campus. Some students, such as some members of the Classes of 2022 and 2023 who have not been on campus since, in some cases, March 2020, are returning to the College as upperclassmen after last occupying the campus as freshmen or sophomores. By now, at the tail end of their Dartmouth careers, these students have spent almost as much time away from campus as they have spent on it. Supposedly veterans of the College, they have spent the last 18 months experiencing a significantly watered-down version of the Dartmouth they had come to know. Even if they recall a time when it was safe to sit in a classroom with professors and peers without masks, the experience of doing so feels like a lifetime ago for so many.
For those who have been on campus this past year, the return to in-person instruction and abandonment of social distancing policies represents the resumption of the college experience they have been yearning for since the pandemic began. For students who have returned to Dartmouth after enduring the loss of loved ones at the hands of the pandemic, the return is bittersweet: The College was a place they called home before their worlds were forever altered.
No matter which of these groups students identify with, this past year has been full of challenges, disappointments and frustrations. It is thus vital that students work together to cultivate an inclusive and cohesive Dartmouth experience as the College begins its return to normalcy. For all the variation that exists in students’ relationships to Dartmouth, we all are united by our shared grief for the memories we could have made in the absence of COVID-19.
As a student body, we all understand to varying degrees many students’ sorrow over losing almost a year and a half of in-person instruction, the four big weekends that are traditional hallmarks of the Dartmouth experience and all the Friday nights we would have gone out with friends. Sure, some of us have lost more time at Dartmouth than others — members of the Classes of 2023 and 2022, for example, have spent six terms learning largely via remote instruction. For members of the Class of 2024, the bulk of their Dartmouth experiences have been through a computer screen. And members of the Class of 2025 are beginning their Dartmouth careers during a time when Dartmouth itself is experiencing an identity crisis.
As we begin to grapple with which aspects of the different Dartmouth experiences we want to maintain and those which we wish to change, it is crucial not to discount, delegitimize and dismiss the experiences of our peers simply because they are different from our own. Arguing over which class has had it “worse” over the past 18 months is unproductive and divisive. If part of what makes Dartmouth such a special place is the close-knit community and the care we exhibit for each other and the campus we call home, then it is time we, as a student body, start acting like it.
Regardless of students’ individual experiences, it is critical that we be willing to work together to determine what a post-pandemic Dartmouth ought to look like. We have an opportunity to create a version of Dartmouth that is better than that which we have experienced. By discounting other students’ Dartmouth experiences simply because they are different from our own, we fail to realize how much we have in common with each other — and we waste an opportunity to learn and grow from the events of the past year.
Have kindness and compassion for your peers. Listen to their experiences. Learn from each other. For all of the setbacks of the past year, there remains a lot to be learned from the pandemic — and, by extension, from the experiences of everyone who lived through it. It is only by working together that we can build a Dartmouth experience that truly reflects the values and interests of the entire Dartmouth community, one that everyone can share in.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.