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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Working Hard or Hardly Working: Anti-Intellectualism at Dartmouth

One writer explores the intellectual pursuits — or lack thereof — of Dartmouth students.

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When I first received my acceptance to Dartmouth in 2022, my brothers insisted that I watch “Animal House,” the 1978 classic film which is notoriously based on the College. After I finally watched the movie, I felt slightly apprehensive about my college choice. Was this grotesque depiction of debauchery — food fights, stealing test answers and threats of expulsion — an accurate reflection of Dartmouth’s campus culture?

Much of Dartmouth’s pop culture representation — including the infamous Rolling Stone article, “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy,” and our unofficial mascot, Keggy the Keg — has perpetuated a stereotype of Dartmouth as an anti-intellectual haven. In other words, Dartmouth is depicted as a place where students drink too much to care about learning, and focus on academics not for their own sake but rather to secure a place at Goldman Sachs or Boston Consulting Group after graduation.

But is this a fair stereotype? Is Dartmouth really anti-intellectual compared to its Ivy League peers? To find out, I spoke to Kirsten Agbenyega, a first-year student at Harvard University.

Agbenyega said that while Harvard has a robust social scene with plenty of intellectual discussion, the campus culture often feels “super competitive.” 

“There’s an overlying culture of everybody trying to out-accomplish each other,” Agbenyega said. “You can escape it if you want to … but, for me, people are already trying to get research opportunities or internship opportunities … so there’s definitely some comparison going on there.” 

In contrast, Dartmouth tends to be more collaborative than competitive. Students who I spoke to said the College’s culture of cooperation might stem from Dartmouth’s “work-hard, play-hard” mentality — or from students’ desire to find a balance between social life and the fast pace of academics. Eiha Patnaik ’25 said attempting to find balance does not mean that Dartmouth students are anti-intellectual but rather seeking a better quality of life and a stronger education. 

“Compared to other schools, I don’t think we have a toxic academic environment,” Patnaik said. “We take classes while also … developing as people. If you’re just taking classes and only thinking about academics, it’s not a holistic way of developing.”

Layup List — the website where students can review professors and identify easy classes, or “layups” — could be seen as one indicator that Dartmouth students only seek less demanding course loads. Patnaik, however, said that many students actually utilize Layup List to find balance in their classes for a given term.

“Normally, people aren’t solely taking easy classes,” Patnaik said. “Layup List is a good resource for people to balance their workload, and I don’t think that means that we’re stupid or not willing to work hard.”

Agbenyega said that Harvard has a similar system to Layup List, with easy classes earning the designation of “gems.” She added that she disagrees that Harvard’s Layup List-equivalent means their students are anti-intellectual. 

“We have something called the Q Guide, which is anonymous course evaluations where you review your professor,” Agbenyega said. “A lot of the time, people will try to take one gem a semester to balance out really hard classes. It’s not like people are trying to take all gems.”

Andre Bouzid ’25, who is from England, also noted that the United States at large has a unique approach to intellectualism. While Europeans tend to look at issues in a detached, more “intellectual” sense, Bouzid said people in the United States have a more “practical” mindset to life. 

“Dartmouth, and America in general — and I think this is a good thing — try to be more practical,” Bouzid said. “[Americans are] not thinking about something in a purely intellectual way when there are actually real problems that [they] can address.”

Dartmouth’s rural location might also hinder students’ ability to be truly intellectual, according to Sabrina Tiger ’27. Tiger explained that Hanover’s isolated nature can hinder students’ ability to engage in dialogue. 

“People are less willing to talk about more difficult and controversial subjects,” Tiger said. “It’s like we’re in this bubble where you don’t actually have to talk about those things … You can stick to your classes and not be aware of what’s happening outside of Hanover.”

At the same time, Tiger said Dartmouth’s unique relationship with politics can encourage objectivity. This neutrality can lead to more open communication when difficult conversations do occur, she said.

“Even within classes … [academic topics] aren’t always brought into the context of what’s happening in the world,” Tiger said. “This makes it possible for the College to actually have good discourse when [issues are] brought up, because people are willing to hear both sides — which is a really great thing.”

Dartmouth’s emphasis on tradition may also drive our relative lack of engagement in discourse, Bouzid said. Students might be less willing to engage in activism since, by nature, activism precipitates change — which could dismantle Dartmouth’s traditions. 

“Dartmouth, in general, reveres tradition probably more than other schools,” Bouzid said. “So, we’re not as political and activist as other campuses because we  …  want to maintain Dartmouth and … [not] let it change and become susceptible to outside forces.”

Do Dartmouth students appear to be more anti-intellectual than students at other schools? Maybe. For many, our culture of collaboration and desire to not appear pretentious probably causes us to hide our nerdier sides. On the other hand, the library is one of the most consistently active social spaces on campus, and Dartmouth students are still incredibly accomplished in their respective academic endeavors. 

Dartmouth’s brand of intellectualism might differ from that present at other schools, but that does not make it any less valuable. Dartmouth students are many things, and intellectual curiosity is merely one thread in our tapestry of varied personalities.