Rittgers: Amazing, Absurd, Yours

Dartmouth is about community spirited, absurd, imperfect, student-led community. We should solve for keeping it that way. The yield will follow.


It was great to see that the Dimensions welcome show will not be canceled. Now is the perfect time for us to put down the pitchforks and continue this conversation about how we showcase who we are, during Dimensions and in general.


Every time I have a conversation about college with someone who went to another school, I realize how distinct Dartmouth is. We have plenty of peers in sports, the lab, the job market and we compete toe to toe with them. But the Dartmouth community, and being a part of it, is unrivaled.


Think about that group you hung out with through the winter when the sun set at 3 p.m., that time you took FoCo trays to the golf course and used them as sleds, the morning you watched the sunrise from the top of Mount Moosilauke during Trips, the 1902 Room or a fire escape in the Fayerweathers, that thing that really makes you want to put up a sign, organize a panel, have a party. These are not things typically associated with Yale or Harvard they are fun, character-building non-sequiturs that are entirely ours.


The fact that I am writing this opinion piece with input from tons of '09s who have not seen campus for years is a perfect example of what makes Dartmouth different the Yale and Harvard grads I work with are busy making PowerPoint slides right now.


Dartmouth is imperfect for many of the same reasons that it is different. In all the chatter about the changes to Dimensions, there have been countless references to problems with how Dimensions has worked in the past surveys of prospies who did not like some part of the weekend, critics of facetime and the Croo culture, references to what other Ivies do better. Before we rush to fix these problems, it is worth taking a minute to think about what we are trying to accomplish.


I remember something that former President Jim Yong Kim said when he first arrived on campus: when someone asked for his views on one of the ever-present "community issues" at Dartmouth, Kim said he needed more time to learn about Dartmouth before answering whatever was asked that day (and is probably still being asked today). He then added something that has become a cohesive explanation of my Hanover experience ever since: "What I can say is that Dartmouth has a lot of community issues, because it has so much community. I don't have a specific answer for you now, but that's worth considering in the meantime."


No one would say that Dartmouth is perfect. Imperfection is the downside of our vibrant, student-led culture. It is a byproduct of the same forces that make us fun, deep and different.


No one would say that we should stop working to improve particularly on our most historically difficult issues. But, in the context of Dimensions and our image, we should tread softly as we make changes.


We are not like any other elite academic institution; everyone deciding whether to come here should know that. We want people who choose Dartmouth because they want to be part of this absurd, slightly off-key, shockingly fun experience that is the Dimensions show and our community.


The biggest risk we face is not a lower yield, but rather that we rush to correct our imperfections and end up losing who we are.


There will always be kids who come to Dimensions, look at Hanover, see that table of kids in Collis or group of guys on Webster Avenue and think, "This isn't for me. I'm going to Harvard." Slogging through data from surveys and reorienting Dimensions weekend to show prospies how we are just like our peers is the perfect response for people like them, and entirely misguided.


This is Dartmouth. We are the people who say, "For those of you who find this place amazing, interesting, absurd, maddening and yours...welcome."


**Annie Rittgers '09 is a guest columnist.*


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