This article is featured in the 2023 Freshman special issue.
Congratulations, ’27s! You have officially made it past the glossy admissions-handbook phase of your Dartmouth career — welcome to campus.
Your freshman fall will be a formative time in your college journey, though by no means definitive of the next four years. At this important moment in your time here, I would like to make the case for a particular kind of activity that I believe is incredibly valuable to explore as a college student: activism. Rather than staying apathetic to political and social issues at Dartmouth, I strongly encourage all incoming freshmen to seriously consider getting involved with issues they find important or simply interesting.
There is no one activist monolith on campus, and there are a variety of causes and ways to get involved. Activities can be as outward-facing as joining and/or supporting the unionizing efforts of various groups on campus, or as personal as writing poetry for Spare Rib. Whatever hobby or interest you have, there is almost certainly a way to make it into an act of activism for a cause you care about.
Activism, defined by these broad terms, can be an incredibly helpful tool in adding meaning, purpose and structure to college life. In my experience working with the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, I have found my activist work to be a refreshing reminder that there is a greater purpose to my existence besides writing Canvas posts and sitting on the Green. Taking action on these issues pushes me to discover a sense of purpose and fulfillment in everyday college life, which is otherwise easy to lose. It is all too easy to settle into a complacent routine here at Dartmouth. With the endless stream of coursework and social events, many students end up endlessly busy and totally apathetic to outside issues; through activism, one can find an escape from that routine into a world of change, progress and big ideas.
Activist work can also be an incredibly effective way to explore the campus communities around you. Activism attracts passionate, fascinating people like no other activity can; at Dartmouth, these people organize student unions, create thrift stores on campus, invite Ukrainian politicians to speak on campus, write about African-American and Indigenous causes and so much more. Through club meetings, campaign events or meeting other activists, contributing to a cause takes you to corners of campus that you could never discover otherwise. I personally have made so many connections with passionate, incredible people who I simply would never have met if I had decided to spend all my free time playing pong. Now, some of these people are now among my closest friends, with whom I share many of my fondest memories.
Yet, in exploring these campus communities, not everyone will be a friend. You will inevitably find yourself faced with people who vehemently disagree with you — and that’s wonderful. Having your views challenged over and over again on issues you are passionate about is an incredible catalyst for academic and personal development. Activists inevitably mature and adapt their views as they learn more about other perspectives. This process of negotiation can at times be stressful, but it is amazingly effective in helping you develop your own positions and grow as a person. Many of us undergo radical shifts both in our beliefs and character as a result of our work, shifts which push us to rethink how we approach conflict, resolution and ethics. As a result of my own work, I believe I am a noticeably more nuanced thinker and a more compassionate individual than I was when I arrived at Dartmouth.
Above all, the most beautiful thing about college activism is the fact that one’s experience with it is entirely their own. How you choose to go about your cause and how much time you dedicate to it are entirely up to you, and can easily be adapted as your schedule changes. There are activists who pull all-nighters to organize on-the-spot protests, and there are activists who come to meetings once a week to discuss the issues; there are activists who write scathing political analyses in national papers and activists who design buttons in the Book Arts Workshop. All of these approaches are just as valid, and which one you take is completely up to you. You don’t change your life to suit your activism — you change your activism to suit your life.
Unfortunately, I suspect that many college students who would otherwise benefit from some sort of activist work often write it off as too difficult or ineffective before seriously considering it. I urge all incoming freshmen, regardless of their beliefs, to stay away from this sort of apathetic line of thought as they move into college life. Of course, activism is not for everyone, and not being an activist doesn’t necessarily make you selfish or apathetic, but freshmen should stop and seriously think about trying out activist work. If not to improve the campus around you, consider activism as a means to improve yourself: a tool to create meaning, make connections and grow as a person.
Put aside apathy for a moment, and give activism a try.
Alsheikh is the president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition of Dartmouth Students. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.