Skiing, Squash and ’Sconset
Reflections on finding true friends and a sense of belonging amidst Dartmouth’s preppy culture.
This article is featured in the 2022 Freshman special issue.
When I think of the quintessential Dartmouth student, it’s easy to envision someone who attended private school, hails from one of the two coasts, skis in the winter and summers in Nantucket, the Cape or the Hamptons. Your classic New England prep school student. I know not everyone at Dartmouth fits this image, but sometimes, it can feel that way.
I embody none of these qualities. I attended a public high school in West Lafayette, Indiana, a Midwestern state that many Dartmouth students couldn’t pick out on a map — trust me, I’ve asked. Last winter was the first time I had ever seen a pair of skis in my life, much less strapped them on and flung myself down a mountain. During the summers, rather than jetsetting to East Coast islands, I spent many nights driving through the cornfields that dot the Indiana countryside. My primary exposure to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard has come from racing through Elin Hilderbrand’s novels, rather than visiting them myself.
As you can imagine, moving halfway across the country to attend Dartmouth was an adjustment for me in more ways than one. Although I knew I would be challenged academically, I wasn’t prepared for the extent to which I would be challenged socially, as well. Last fall, when I found myself suddenly immersed in Dartmouth’s preppy social spheres, I quickly began to feel as though I didn’t belong.
In Indiana I could count on one hand the number of people I knew who played lacrosse — or squash or field hockey, for that matter. But suddenly, those sports were everywhere. The presence of athletes competing at the collegiate and club level in sports that I barely knew existed left me feeling as though I lacked some essential knowledge that other Dartmouth students possessed. Later, as ski season descended on campus, many of my new friends complained about breaking a binding or celebrated fresh powder and I would nod along without any clue as to what they were talking about.
Yet, even if I had known how to ski or understood the intricate rules governing squash, ultimately, the primary culprit behind my fears that I didn’t belong was my Midwestern hometown.
When I first arrived on campus last year, it seemed as though many other members of the Class of 2025 already knew at least a few people — whether from their hometown or the Dartmouth alumni clubs in their area. In this respect, Indiana put me at a distinct disadvantage. There is no Dartmouth alumni club anywhere in the state, and during the entirety of high school, I didn’t know a single person who attended, or even applied, to Dartmouth.
When I would introduce myself to someone, the conversation usually came to a full stop when I mentioned where I was from. People always seemed at a loss for what to say about the state of Indiana. They would ask “What do people eat in Indiana?” and “Is there even electricity in the Midwest?” For the record, yes, I did not grow up by candlelight. Occasionally, they would change the subject entirely. Worse were the snide comments about Indiana’s education system, implying that my state focused on farming rather than learning.
I laughed off these comments at the time, and honestly still find them absurd enough to be funny in retrospect. But their constant repetition eventually made me feel as though I was truly an anomaly at Dartmouth. I’m not the first Dartmouth girl from Indiana, nor am I the only one in my class, but I felt separated from the East and West Coasters by a facet of my identity that seemed to stick out like a sore thumb.
Yet, over the course of the past year, these various times I felt out of place paled in comparison to the number of occasions on which friends have convinced me that I truly belong in Hanover. Throughout freshman year, I found friends willing to teach me the rules of field hockey and squash, lend me their lacrosse sticks and play intramural hockey with me — though we tragically lost our first game. Despite my lack of skiing experience, one of my friends who had been skiing practically since birth even offered to take a Nordic skiing lesson with me last winter. Not only did she help me put on all the equipment, but she pulled me up every single hill on the golf course when I couldn’t figure out how to move my feet in the skis.
For every person who made a disparaging remark about the Midwest, there were five others who told them to apologize or jokingly advised me to kick the offenders in the shins. After I mentioned to a friend that my little brother’s soccer team was having success in the postseason, they began following the state tournament, despite having no other connection to Indiana high school soccer.
To the Class of 2026, there will inevitably be times where you feel like you don’t belong at Dartmouth. At times, this school can seem to be centered around a preppy lifestyle that appears inaccessible to those who didn’t grow up with it. Instead of allowing feelings of not belonging to overwhelm you, I hope that you find true friendships that outweigh these feelings — friends who will pull you up ski hills and teach you new sports even if they’ve known the rules since kindergarten. There is a place for you at Dartmouth, no matter how fervently you believe there isn’t. After all, if an Indiana girl can find her home in Hanover, I know that you, too, will find where you belong on campus.