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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Welcome to the Woods: Strangers’ Takes on the “Dartmouth Difference”

Shena Han ’25 unpacks the myth of the “Dartmouth difference” through a fresh set of eyes.

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Bridget Weibel supporting the Dartmouth Outing Club Fifty at Atwell Hill.

According to a 1947 article in the Harvard Crimson, “Dartmouth men take their college seriously from the time they don their green beanies as freshmen to the sad day of their last promenade about the campus in green senior jackets and canes. They all learn how to ski, how to drink, how to get along with people and how to cheer at football games … Pride in the college and a tremendous feeling of ‘belonging’ pervade the green Hanover mists.”

Almost a century after that article’s publication, Dartmouth has transformed from a boys-only club to a coeducational institution with a female president. Old traditions have died and new ones have risen to take their place. And yet, I don’t think I’m the only one who still wonders whether there is a new archetypal Dartmouth student, and whether the so-called “Dartmouth difference” is real, or just a pithy caption for Instagram photo dumps.

For a school commonly compared to a cult, it may be difficult for those of us on the inside to view our experiences objectively, especially if we have no other point of comparison. With this challenge in mind, I wanted to find out what Dartmouth looks like to people who aren’t living in the thick of it.

Many visitors noted how Dartmouth’s small, college town environment and proximity to nature immediately distinguished it from their home institutions. Ellie Snow, a student at George Washington University who visited campus in June, said she appreciated the quiet and liked getting to explore Dartmouth’s outdoor spaces.

“It’s really cool to see so much of the student body taking advantage of the stuff to do downtown, like Still North, and the [Norwich] farmers market and all the trails,” Snow said. “I feel like that is really unique to Dartmouth and very different from [GWU], being in the city.”

For some visitors, Dartmouth presented opportunities that weren’t available at their home institutions. Sanya Gupta, an astrophysics major from Columbia University, said she was able to stargaze during her visit, which is difficult to do in New York City. Nisarga Ramesh, who studies architecture at Northeastern University, said that she loved getting to explore Baker-Berry Library.

“It was so dark academia. I love that place,” Ramesh said. “My whole college campus is pretty new… Our library’s gross. I hate it. So I really liked [Baker-Berry], I’m very fond of it.”

Gupta said that though the trip was “calming” for her, she saw how campus could become stifling after a while.

“You can’t really walk off campus, and you bump into the same people all the time,” Gupta said. “I think that made me realize that there was that claustrophobic feel, almost.”

Ramesh expressed similar sentiments. She said that she was surprised by the amount of people her friend recognized while walking around campus.

“I joked to [Emily Chang ’25], ‘oh my god, you know every other person on the street,’” Ramesh said. “Having everybody know your name feels a little suffocating.”

However, Gupta added that she feels like there is a strong sense of community at Dartmouth due to its size and location.

“We don’t have that sense of school culture because the city is our ‘school culture,’ whereas Dartmouth has [things like] pong and all these complicated rules associated with it,” Gupta said. “So even though there is a Dartmouth bubble, it feels like students do a relatively good job of taking advantage of that bubble to craft a cohesive school community.”

Bridget Weibel, who attends the University of British Columbia, said she got a sense of that community supporting the Dartmouth Outing Club Fifty — a 54-mile hike from Mt. Moosilauke to campus along the Appalachian Trail — at the Atwell Hill station when she visited this past weekend.

“It was just really fun to see [Lina Klinkenberg ’25] and her friends do this difficult thing and watch them support each other,” Weibel said. “It seems like a super well-organized and executed event, and it seems like a lot of people love it.”

Several of the students pointed to Greek Life as another unique aspect of Dartmouth’s culture. Weibel noted that because many upperclassmen at UBC don’t live on-campus, the social scene is centered on house parties and going to clubs, as opposed to fratting.

“Everyone I met seemed to be involved with [Greek Life] in some capacity,” she said. “You wouldn’t find anything at UBC where a lot of the student body is involved [in it].”

Gupta noted that because there is greater involvement with Greek Life among the Dartmouth student body, she felt that Dartmouth frats were somewhat more welcoming than those at Columbia.

Ramesh said that the college social scene in Boston consists of house parties as well as attending events at other schools, especially the parties at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She called being in a Dartmouth frat basement and watching people play pong a “wild” experience.

“They’re all so into it. I was like, ‘this is the culture here!’” Ramesh said. “I was not very good at it — I guess because I have small hands.”

When asked about whether Dartmouth attracts a particular kind of student, the responses were mixed. Snow answered affirmatively, saying that everyone she met was very “down-to-earth” and “a little granola.”

“But when I’m getting into conversations with some of them, they’re studying really legit stuff,” Snow said. “So it’s a really cool contrast … they’re studying really hard, but on the exterior, it’s someone who’s calm and knows how to enjoy things as well. I feel like that’s a really healthy balance.”

Gupta said that she visited before finals and did notice a “stress culture” present at Dartmouth. However, she said that the individual students she met were all different.

“I don’t think I saw a typical student because like with any liberal arts school, I talked to a mix of people across disciplines, and it seemed like a lot of people were just doing their own thing,” Gupta said.

Ultimately, Weibel said, the visit opened her eyes to a new way of looking at her own university once she returned.

“There are things that I think Dartmouth is amazing at and that I wish my school community had more of, but there are [also] definitely things that I appreciate about going to a large school in a big city,” she said. “I appreciate a lot of things that I didn’t before, after Dartmouth.”