“This Campus is Haunted to Me”: Class of 2024 Reflects on Grief and Loss
In returning to a fully-occupied Dartmouth, sophomores point out what they feel campus culture is currently missing: more communication, more empathy and infrastructure for mental health.
Updated 2:20 p.m., Oct. 31, 2021.
After a tumultuous 18 months, Dartmouth returned to near normalcy in September. In-person classes resumed, dining halls opened to full capacity and campus began to feel alive again after being in a long hibernation. However, for many ’24s, the tragedies of this past year have hit particularly hard — and made it harder to shift to a normal they never knew.
Kiara Ortiz ’24, a West House representative for Student Assembly, commented on how “nerve-wracking” her physical return to campus was this fall. Close to both Beau DuBray and Elizabeth Reimer, two members of the Class of 2024 who died by suicide this past year, Ortiz said that the administration’s lack of response and empathy to the student deaths by suicide made it very difficult for her to return to campus this fall.
“I was so disheartened by the end of spring term, and physically being here is nerve-wracking,” she said. “I hope the administration understands what we have been through and is committed to taking it seriously.”
Ortiz also said that she felt no real sense of community in her first year at Dartmouth, but she appreciates that the sophomores are getting to experience some of the classic Dartmouth traditions they missed out on, like the Twilight Ceremony and matriculation.
Ortiz argued that the communication between students and the administration should be better.
“Students shouldn’t need to pressure the administration for support, and just because everything is back to normal now doesn’t mean that everything and everyone is suddenly okay,” Ortiz said. “It doesn’t mean the events of the last year have been erased.”
She wants to see more commitment from the administration to issues like mental health.
“I feel as though they pick up issues to fight for, but don’t actively have a plan or direction in which to take them.” She added, “I also know as much as the student body knows, despite being on Student Assembly, so there needs to be more transparency and open communication.”
In the wake of the challenges of the last year, the administration announced an increased commitment to mental health. They have since announced a partnership with the JED Foundation and employing more counsellors, but Ortiz is not exactly sure how transformative this has been. The JED Foundation partnership has begun; students have received the “Healthy Minds” survey via email.
She said that Dartmouth “has a lot of really intelligent fighters” who she hopes will “continue to talk about mental health and not take no for an answer.”
David Katz ’24 echoed similar concerns to Ortiz regarding the administration’s lack of response to the mental health crisis, speaking to the struggle between taking care of oneself and staying on top of classes.
“There have been so many times when I have wanted to take class off because I am not mentally okay, but there is no safety net to fall back on, as attendance is part of the grade, and faculty are not always as empathetic as they could be,” Katz said.
Katz also struggled to return to Dartmouth this fall after freshman year. After the death of their best friend, Reimer, Katz said they were “encapsulated” by their own grief and hurt by the lack of support from the College. Katz added that they have “lost complete faith” in the administration.
Despite the College being open now, Katz still struggles to be optimistic, seeing the system as too fundamentally flawed to be changed.
“It feels to me like the ’24s are the cursed child of Dartmouth,” Katz said. “We will never be a normal class and are forever plagued by how difficult our introduction to Dartmouth was. It’s hard to pretend that events like the Twilight Ceremony will change anything. I didn’t attend matriculation, I didn’t see the point. Every single part of this campus is haunted to me.”
Jack Heaphy ’24 reflected similarly on the difficult end to his freshman year last spring — specifically, the challenge of balancing momentary feelings of happiness and joy with the undercurrent of grief and sadness that permeated the Class of 2024.
“I was left feeling this weird combination of emotions. Despite losing my best friend, Connor [Tiffany ’24], I had actually had a great first year at Dartmouth and met a lot of amazing people,” Heaphy said. “I’m proud of the way I dealt with everything, but the hard part for me is that someone I cared deeply about will never get the token Dartmouth experience.”
Heaphy appreciates the administration’s active efforts to make members of the Class of 2024 feel more included in the Dartmouth community, but he said that their attempts also further emphasize the fact that not everyone originally admitted as a ’24 will get to experience pivotal traditions like Homecoming or rush.
For Heaphy, Dartmouth feels like a different school now, and the quick, immediate shift to normalcy again has made it too easy to forget the challenges that everyone faced last year.
“Despite things being so much better now, it feels like everyone rushed forward to forget the challenges of last year and move on,” Heaphy said. “I really wanted to honor Connor and those that we lost last year. I was in talks with the Student Assembly to organize a commemoration called The Candle Project, but it never materialized.”
Heaphy feels like he has been able to grieve without public commemorations, but he thinks that the College has not done nearly enough to honor the students who died.
“Not a single faculty member or member of the administration has reached out to me,” Heaphy said. “It feels like they checked a box by having the vigil in May and that they just want everyone to move on now. But the reality is that many of us will never move on or heal properly.”
Heaphy thinks that the College is too focused on expanding existing mental health resources without creating new ones. He added that he thinks that the entire system needs to be broken down and built from the bottom up.
When reflecting on his own experience with Dartmouth mental health services, he says that they have been far from adequate.
“I went to one in-person counseling session this term at Dick’s House and it honestly was awful,” Heaphy said. “The counselor was late, the set up was beyond janky, and the room that we were in was bleak and depressing. I kept thinking about how much I didn’t want to be there the entire time.”
This article has been updated to reflect a source’s pronouns.