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Orientation week, a random smattering of the class of 2016 piled into Alumni Gymnasium Hall for some official-sounding “Welcome to Dartmouth” event. I say “random smattering” because I’m pretty sure half of us didn’t go — like that “Strange as This Weather Has Been” class book lecture that was supposed to bind us all together over summer reading. I think the only thing I remember from that book was that a main character got splinters on her butt from having sex in a shed.
I was “that kid” who loved politics as a child. I received my first civic education around my grandparents’ dining room table, discussing local and national politics with my parents, grandparents and cousins, which required me to keep up with the news if I wanted to be able to participate in the discussions. I remember staying up long past my bedtime to watch the returns of the 2000 election between George W. Bush and Al Gore and asking my mother what would happen if the election was a tie, a question that was probably a tactic to delay sleep, but one that is humorous and ironic in retrospect. In third grade, I developed an interest in labor history and in middle school, the feminist movement, attempting to understand history to understand the world around me. In short, even as a child, you could call me a political nerd.
My freshman fall in 2012, Dartmouth seemed like an unreal experience to me. Even though I knew that the utopia Dartmouth presented to me was not for people like me, I wanted to believe in the dream. It was easier to tell my friends and family back home that Dartmouth was great than to tell them I would rather sleep on the floor next to my mother, grandmother and brother in our studio apartment again than to have my own room and my own bed while living in a space where I felt hyper-invisible and unwanted. I wanted to tell them that I felt more broken and hopeless at this institution then I ever had before. But, I didn’t want to disappoint them because I knew my story, a story of a Black girl from the Southside of Chicago who had gone to Dartmouth, is one that they took immense pride in. So, even though I knew Dartmouth’s utopia didn’t include people like me, I thought that I was going to have the opportunity to make it include people like me. I was wrong.
I am a foreigner. Yes, I may be a citizen and may have been born in the United States, but I am still foreign all the same. I don’t fit the cultural norms of an American society that has constantly tried to shape the person I am, to shape me into a passively obedient, productive member of American capitalism. Yet, for most of my life I have tried. I have tried being quiet, being obedient. I have tried dating women. I have tried maintaining a low profile. And I have tried presenting in a masculine way. None of it helped. I was still a fish out of water, a person floundering in a society not made for them.
It was my last night in Paris. I wanted to stay out all night, walking the streets I’d learned, trusting the kindness I’d found, refusing the morning’s impending arrival.
In July 2014, I was spending my third straight summer in Hanover. I was working as a teaching assistant for “Classics 4,” helping with a digital mapping project in the art history department, editing an educational website’s mythology curriculum, kicking off research on my thesis and avoiding the contemplation of the spectre of adulthood which had by this point fully sunk its teeth into my unrelenting existence.
For ’16s, this is the first time we’re all — more or less — on campus together since the 2012-2013 school year. My first night back this fall, fresh off the Dartmouth Coach and still lugging my duffels, I had dinner at Molly’s to celebrate a friend’s birthday. As a closet socially anxious person, this was the perfect way to start the term. I maybe not-so-secretly have the constant niggling worry that nobody likes me, and I should just go eat some worms. So having plans for a social gathering the minute I got here was comforting. After three years, I feel like I have networks — plural — of people to turn to and be with, and that’s a beautiful thing. Surprisingly, though, it’s not togetherness that’s fueled my happiness — it’s separation. It’s the D-Plan.
15F. September. DHMC. I crossed my legs, my laptop precariously balancing on one knee as I frantically scrolled through the form with checkboxes ranging from “depression” to “paying bills.” I had to find the box for “anxiety” before the woman sitting next to me listed another symptom of dementia.
I came to Dartmouth from Taos, a small town in New Mexico, not knowing anyone or what to expect. How could an hour-long campus tour possibly prepare me for such a massive transition? I was moving across the country, living away from home for the first time. I was a mess of nervous excitement. How was I supposed to find my way around campus? Was I going to make friends? How could my small-town public school possibly compare to the prestigious prep and boarding schools of some of my peers? But I was excited too — excited to test myself and try new things, to be able to take control of my life for the first time, to choose my classes based on my real interests, to choose my activities, my friends and what I was going to eat for dinner that night.
To be honest, I thought I had it all figured it out. Being dropped off by my parents in the middle of New Hampshire was definitely nerve-wracking, but every one was in the same boat, right? I had a plan, and it was simple — school, friends, sleep and repeat. That was definitely doable. But I write this from a place of preciously secured wisdom that has been bestowed upon me as a member of the next graduating class. From this vantage point, I see how completely out-of-touch this so-called plan actually was. It did not factor in any kind of living — and by living I mean the sometimes dirty, messy, beautiful, ridiculous life events that occur without warning. At the time, the plan was all I had. I thought college was a neat little formula I could plug myself into and complete within the allotted four years. That first day I was excited about who I was, and I knew exactly where I was going. I saw four years ahead of me, four years and the opportunity to make of them whatever I decided.
I never thought I would be involved in religious life anywhere — much less in college. Growing up as a Conservative Jew while attending a Christian high school, I hated displays of organized religion. Even though chapel services tried to be inclusive, recognizing the various Jewish (and other faiths’) holidays, I still felt out of place. At religious school, I never felt intellectually engaged and felt ostracized by my peers, who attended different schools. While I still maintained a set of Jewish values fostered by my parents, I did not find a group of Jewish peers to whom I could relate.
I avoid going home because I can’t avoid mealtimes. The scene plays out almost exactly the same way each time. My father complains about bills, my mother gossips about her immigrant friends’ children and my 10-year-old brother spills food onto his comic books, ignoring everyone present. I remain silent, not sure which parts of my current life I can share with a family that lives in an entirely different world.
Ashley was a green light I never expected.
Like many of us here, I rage every Saturday. Once 6 p.m. rolls around, I grab dinner with a couple of my friends and then head off for a series of escapades, often stretching into the wee hours of the night. In the interest of transparency, however, I should let you know it is not me, per se, who is raging, but rather my level 12 dwarf-barbarian — he wields a greathammer, name of Einar.
From what I’ve heard, I’ve developed a reputation during my time here for being a really kind, friendly and well-meaning individual. Trust me, I do try. In fact, it’s difficult for me not to. That’s because my earnest friendliness is a tool I use to conceal my actual deep-rooted feelings of anxiety. For much of my life I have been intrinsically stressed out — I’ve believed, quite irrationally, that I am being judged or ridiculed during normal, seemingly friendly interactions. I’ve felt self-conscious and embarrassed when there is really no need.
“Where are you from?” is such a simple question — but I dread it.
I’m facetimey. I enjoy attention, engaging with mainstream social life and being liked. I am the youngest of three, after all. I equate my self-worth to the amount of “likes” I get across social media platforms, and I’m crushed by suffocating insecurity when someone acknowledges my faults. I sang to prospies during Dimensions, dyed my hair for HCroo and wore a speedo in a Mainstage show. I’ve participated in most Dartmouth propagandistic activities in exchange for social capital. These transactions make me happy (see: my above values system). I will, however, defend myself by admitting that climbing the social ladder was not so high on my priorities list as being an accessible upperclassman mentor or finding a group of equally social people with whom I relate. I figured that my closest social connections would be the students who had also successfully infiltrated Dartmouth’s labyrinthine social networks. But I assumed, and made an ass out of you and me.
I never went camping as a child.
Maybe this will help you understand.
My father passed away the summer before my sophomore year. That’s how I always start the explanation, and that’s often how I end it. When people ask about my father, they don’t expect a tragic story as a response, and I truly do not wish to present them with one. Death is already painful and complicated. Loss of a parent is immensely difficult — the story is already sad, regardless of the circumstances.