Last week, admissions announced that the annual Dimensions welcome show will be significantly reworked ("Admissions seeks to boost yield," Feb. 28). Amidst harsh criticism from the student body and hostile online commenters from all walks of life, the College revealed its intention to transform the Dimensions event into a more academic affair one that is designed to showcase the "breadth and depth" of the Dartmouth "intellectual experience," rather than the quirkiness of our collective wardrobe and the lightheartedness of our collective spirit.
Although reactions varied, they were universally extreme. Facebook statuses ranged from direly pessimistic on the one end "This is the end of Dartmouth as we know it! SAVE OUR SCHOOL!" to acutely paranoid on the other "Now we can finally stop willfully fooling prospies into believing that Dartmouth is a warm, happy and welcoming place! End the charade!"
What is really at issue in these histrionic discussions are competing accounts of the Dartmouth experience an ongoing debate between those who paint a bleak picture of an anti-intellectual, inauthentic and socially fragmented campus on the one hand and those who describe an oasis of positivity, diversity and community on the other.
The former camp of discontents characterizes Dartmouth as an oppressive place riddled with unsavory "isms," the foremost of which are racism, sexism and, of course, classism. From this point of view, the Greek system is a bastion of evil and exclusivity whose power-hungry members are bent on world domination, widening the income gap and pillaging rural villages.
Conversely, the latter camp is intentions regarding Dartmouth as a haven of acceptance and good will. According to this narrative, mainstream social life at Dartmouth, and all of the attendant traditions, is ideal, perhaps even utopian. There is nothing wrong with the self-induced vomiting or the high incidence of sexual assault, because Dartmouth is an exemplary institution, immune to criticism of any kind.
While such immoderate positions have a great deal of rhetorical force, they very rarely capture the nuanced nature of reality. Dartmouth is neither the Dantean hell disparaged by its detractors nor the progressive paradise praised by its proponents. It is somewhere in between and we would do best to bridge the ideological divide by taking a more realistic middle ground.
Like most institutions, Dartmouth has its flaws. And like most institutions that exist within the broader context of a sexist, racist and classist culture, Dartmouth has its biases. Gung-ho supporters of the College turn a blind eye to the very real injustices that plague our campus and dogmatic defenders of the Greek system, and the degrading rituals with which it is often associated, are complicit in a power structure that undeniably contributes to the aforementioned "isms." Gendered spaces such as single-sex fraternities or sororities are problematic, especially when massive differentials in the accessibility of alcohol yield equally massive differentials in social capital. To be sure, there is much that requires serious examination about in-groups that define themselves in opposition to out-groups.
But it is all too easy to couch Dartmouth's defects in unfairly reductionist terms. Dartmouth is not a perfect school, but it certainly is not an irredeemable one. For one thing, the charges of anti-intellectualism are unfounded. It may be difficult to initiate intellectual dialogue in certain contexts (read: frat basements at 1 A.M. in the five-minute interval between pong games three and four), but that is true of any collegiate environment. Any Dartmouth student who goes out of her way to seek intellectual stimulation, and consequently puts herself in circumstances where she is likely to find it, will not be disappointed.
Moreover, the Greek system is only as pervasive as we allow it to be. We create the social situations that we inhabit and it is not difficult to take advantage of the non-Greek opportunities that present themselves, if only we look for them. There are lectures, performances, Friday Night Rock shows, Hood Museum of Art events and off-campus parties galore and then there is always good old, interpersonal discussion.
Speaking as someone who emerged from the ranks of the Dartmouth deprecators (at least mostly) unscathed, I can say with relative certainty that there is very little to be gained from the kind of unqualified negativity that the anti-Dartmouth contingent represents. Likewise, however, uncritically pro-Dartmouth factions ignore and thereby countenance inequity and prejudice.