It’s well-known that Dartmouth and the Town of Hanover don’t often mix. Many students are too busy worrying about their 10-week term to really care about what goes on in Hanover, and residents of the town are too busy dealing with real-life problems to care much about what goes on at Dartmouth. Where we do interact, it’s rarely positive: issues of New Hampshire voting and election candidates for the state House of Representatives frequently pit college and town against each other, making for an oddly antagonistic relationship.
This has been the status quo for a while now, and most people don’t think much about it. Yet, consciously or not, both students and local residents are suffering negative consequences as a result of this state of affairs.
Especially post-COVID-19, local businesses are struggling more than ever to stay afloat, as the recent closures of Traditionally Trendy and Hanover True Value show. Even sales at the record store, a wonderful bastion of Dartmouth history and culture, are at an all-time low, putting the continued existence of the “longtime Hanover mainstay” in jeopardy. This affects not just the business owners, but the entire town: Fewer businesses means fewer reasons for a resident to leave their house and enjoy the outside world.
Students, too, are struggling. Most of us have been sucked into the Dartmouth bubble and have forgotten that the town, while small, does have experiences to offer — experiences that can be more meaningful than just an occasional dinner in the town, and which can provide much needed stress-relief from the vagaries of college life. I would argue that, in a small way, the mental health crisis on campus is being worsened by our ignoring the town around us. We are depriving ourselves of the town as a healthy, enjoyable escape from the normal routine of drinking and partying.
I argue that this relationship must be fixed by those who are best suited to fix it: the College administration and Hanover town officials. They should collaborate to organize regular programming between students, townies and local businesses.
There are many forms that this programming could take. Close-off Main Street from cars for an afternoon, and have a weekend fair every so often. Set up tables and chairs on the street and sidewalk, and organize an outdoor barbecue or potluck on Main Street. Even better, let’s encourage more local businesses to invite student bands to do a live show every so often. Once or twice a term, coordinate a day for all the local business ideas to take some of their merchandise outside and run a sale and offer special deals. Perhaps Dartmouth Dining could partner with local restaurants to make dining dollars usable in the town every so often. There are endless ways that the administration and town could partner to get a fun atmosphere in Hanover every once in a while.
Whenever these fairs would be organized, it would be trivially easy for the College administration to advertise them to students. A few emails and a poster or two in Collis, and the College could get a good crowd going on Main Street for a fun Friday afternoon or Saturday morning. Likewise, Hanover town officials could easily market such an event to the town as a fun way to build community and get out of the house, potentially with the official town listserv. As long as College administrators and town officials can rally up the student body to engage with events like these, there’s not much that can go wrong.
There are endless possibilities to expand on these ideas. If they want to get more ambitious, the College and the town could even organize a fun field day or two for both students and townies. A game of red-light-green-light down Main Street would be ridiculously fun, in my opinion, and all the more so if I’m doing it with the whole town. Perhaps we could even install one of those giant chess boards somewhere in the town, and host small tournaments for prizes from the town. Any of these larger events would be easy to transform into a fundraiser as well, which would give people even more of a reason to turn out.
The greatest challenge that may arise would be getting students excited to engage with these events — this can be rectified by involving student leadership on campus in the planning of these events. Similarly, the issue of putting too much strain on the town can be circumvented if we involve local residents and community leadership in the planning of Dartmouth-Hanover programming. As long as we consult with representatives from all the involved parties, the sky’s the limit for what we can organize together.
Although these possibilities have been mostly ignored by the present administration, incoming College President Sian Beilock and her administration may be uniquely prepared to start this campaign of renewed college-town cooperation. Mental health is one of Beilock’s priorities coming into her tenure, and if done correctly, this campaign could significantly help the mental health of students on campus. By working with the town to provide more alternative social spaces, we can create a sense of belonging to a larger Hanover community that’s bigger than just academic classes and social cliques. Through organizing fun events with the town, students who haven’t yet found their niche on campus will be given a chance to make those bonds in an alternative space which opens them up to the world outside Dartmouth while reinforcing appreciation for the town we all live in. These events would help encourage students to explore new communities and get out of established routines, especially if they are organized by professionals from the town and College. In turn, these events can help open students’ eyes to the world around them and expose us to fun new ways to enjoy College life. In doing so, we all stand to improve our mental health and general college experience.
I strongly encourage the Beilock administration to rethink how they approach Hanover, the townies and local businesses — for the sake of the students, if no one else. All that we need is a little coordination between our community leaders, and we can all enjoy the benefits of a healthy Dartmouth-Hanover relationship. At the end of the day, students and townies live in the same town. We’re neighbors — so why don’t we start acting neighborly? Even if election season shakes things up, we can still have fun, interact, meet each other, be friends and make memories.
We may live in the middle of nowhere, but we can at least live in the middle of nowhere, together.
Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.