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The landscape of American higher education is changing. Amidst already daunting challenges in the form of rapidly rising tuitions, decreased funding and a student debt crisis reaching its zenith, the march of technological progress is also reshaping higher education.
Dartmouth is full of beloved traditions, and the Homecoming bonfire every fall reigns as one of the most sacred and celebrated. The bonfire saw its first flames over a century ago, and every year since has welcomed home a new class with warm and open arms. Dartmouth alumni, no matter where they end up, return home en masse to pay their alma mater a visit. Amidst shouts of “Touch the fire!” and “Worst class ever!,” it sends the message to the newest members of the Dartmouth community that her spell on them truly is enduring.
As the controversy surrounding Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination process to the Supreme Court reaches its climax, the nation’s attention has shifted to the elite spaces that nourished him. Recent exposés of Kavanaugh’s fraternity and secret society at Yale describe cultures of binge-drinking and law-breaking. Comments by friends and former classmates, as well as anecdotes given by professors and mentors describe a culture of excess opportunity, privilege and power foreign to most Americans.
As potential members of Greek houses go through recruitment, or “rush,” the majority of Dartmouth’s campus has been even more preoccupied with Greek life than usual. It is very clear, though, that men and women are going through very different processes to reach very different finish lines.
Finally, a rejoinder is made. On Monday, Sept. 17, the College’s Board of Trustees approved the construction of a new 350-bed dorm on the site of what is currently the Alumni Gym tennis courts and House Center A, commonly referred to by students as the Onion. The decision is a necessary step in alleviating Dartmouth’s ongoing housing crisis; executive vice president Rick Mills and his team may be lauded for their discourse and counsel throughout the process.
It is easy to argue that for a college approaching its 250th anniversary, the arrival of a new class of students gracing the Green is a humdrum affair in Dartmouth’s very long history. True to Dartmouth’s jolly stereotype, however, the Class of 2022 was welcomed to campus with the same energy, flair and Cascada Best Hits™ tracks that many classes past were introduced to themselves. While so many aspects of a freshman’s first few weeks at the College are painstakingly rehearsed and prepared, the festivities were not unfounded. There truly is cause for optimism at the College today, and the Class of 2022 is in a unique position to take advantage of it.
Take a trip down memory lane, back to 1769, when Dartmouth was taking its first steps. The College was founded to serve as an institution to educate Native Americans. Despite this, Dartmouth’s relationship with Native Americans has been complicated; the College had no more than 20 Native students throughout the first 200 years of its history. Perhaps to pay homage to its past, and in recognition of its changing cultural values, Dartmouth has now enrolled more Native American students than all other Ivy League institutions combined, and the College’s Native American Studies program has become one of the most highly regarded in the country.
“Live authentically.” That’s such a common thing to hear, and it’s something most people likely believe. People tend to think of themselves as genuine, and everyone constantly hears how they should explore their interests, develop their passions and otherwise form an independent identity. People seem to know that they should stand up for what they believe in. They understand that they shouldn’t define themselves by a stereotype. But unfortunately, at Dartmouth, students often ignore that.
Fifty years ago, the Dartmouth student body was completely male. In typical Dartmouth fashion, there was resistance to change. But with considerable effort over the years, that demographic has changed: since 2012, the student body has had equal representation of both genders. To this day, Dartmouth continues to redefine what it means to preserve tradition without excluding deserving students on the basis of race, gender and socioeconomic background from the opportunities of a Dartmouth education.
With his announcement of the College’s $3 billion capital campaign, “The Call to Lead,” College President Phil Hanlon acknowledged an obvious truth: Dartmouth is distinct. The College maintains a unique identity and educational opportunity among universities. In “The Call to Lead,” Dartmouth has shown it is intrepid enough to strengthen those aspects of the College that will further distinguish and advance the school while also acknowledging Dartmouth’s current shortcomings and steps for improvement. Regardless of the campaign’s self-congratulatory tone, this declaration exemplifies the direction and spirit that Dartmouth needs if it is to thrive. A confident vision for the future of the College has been set forth: will alumni and students be willing to answer?
In its current mission statement, Dartmouth declares its commitment to preparing students for “a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership,” qualities that have been integral to Dartmouth’s mission in one form or another since its founding. As a liberal arts college, Dartmouth achieves this by encouraging engagement with a wide range of subjects, often in intimate and dynamic contexts. In many ways, the College fulfills this successfully: Dartmouth has a student-to-faculty ratio of seven to one, boasts the highest participation rate in study abroad programs of any Ivy League institution as of 2014 and offers a plethora of opportunities for innovative learning and experience in and out of the classroom.
Sustainability has long been a major goal and a central subject of conversation at Dartmouth. Sustainability-minded organizations, communities, initiatives and opportunities on campus, many of which have been pioneered by the Dartmouth Sustainability Office, have made the issue highly visible. The efforts made on the part of the College and the students involved have not gone unrecognized: Dartmouth was ranked 10th in the Green Universities Report last year by SaveOnEnergy.com, a Texas-based energy consulting firm. The report stated, “At Dartmouth College, sustainability isn’t just a campus initiative — it’s a way of life.”
Mindy Kaling ’01 is a Dartmouth legend — not because she is a two-time New York Times best-selling author; not because she was the first woman of color nominated for an Emmy in writing for her work on “The Office”; not because she produced, directed, wrote and starred in her own comedy series “The Mindy Project”; and not because she made it on to TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People List in 2013, to name just a few of her accomplishments. She is a legend because she grew a successful career in entertainment out of a Dartmouth degree.
Tonight, the streets of Dartmouth’s campus will be uncharacteristically quiet. The throngs of students that normally populate Webster Avenue and Wheelock Street will be absent. Instead, various social spaces will hold public and private conversations on their complicity in and perpetuation of a perennial outrage at the College as well as universities across the country: sexual violence and assault. This reckoning is long overdue and all too necessary. Pledges to curtail and prevent sexual violence must not be confined to the month of April. To have any chance of success, Dartmouth must be sincere and relentless in the reformation of its social spaces.
On Saturday, March 24, thousands of people marched on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C. for the March for Our Lives, a demonstration in support of tighter gun control regulations. The march was accompanied by over 800 corresponding protests in cities around the world. Announced in the wake of the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the march was the culmination of weeks of activism and outcries mostly by students and youth.
The Green looks the same. The students are still in ubiquitous black gowns. The speeches are still full of hope and opportunity. But the College is reflecting — reflecting on four years of good leadership, good choices and an agenda of renewal that has built upon Dartmouth’s successes and helped the school, in a short time, become a better place for its community.
For many, college is a period of self-discovery and newfound independence. This freedom is a blessing, but it can also seem like a curse — with little oversight on how to act and with many influences capable of pressuring students, it is easy to become overwhelmed. Add to that the common assumption that most students seem to be doing fine and some can end up believing that they are worse than others for struggling, that they are missing a spark that must be inherent in others.
Last Friday, 15 current and former Dartmouth athletes and two head coaches marched in the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics at Pyeongchang, South Korea. Undergraduates Tricia Mangan ’19 and Alice Merryweather ’21 were added to the U.S. Alpine ski team just days before the official start of the games, while Paralympian Staci Mannella ’18 is scheduled to compete in March. In total, 18 Dartmouth representatives will participate in the Olympics this year, the most in a single Games in College history. This is an exciting time for the Dartmouth community, but it is also an opportunity to embody the spirit and values of the games while fostering a more welcoming atmosphere as a campus.
This editorial was featured in the 2018 Winter Carnival Issue.
The Dartmouth that students enter in half a decade may look very different from the College we know today. Last fall, the College’s leadership announced the creation of a task force to consider increasing the number of undergraduates on the campus by as much as 25 percent, or roughly 1,000 students. The task force’s final proposal is due in mid-March. If implemented, such a change would represent a shift at the College that would likely necessitate large-scale faculty hiring, massive building initiatives and a fundamental change in campus culture. Both proponents and opponents of the proposal deserve a chance to weigh in before any final decisions are made.