Osserman: Greenwashing Dartmouth

Like many other students, I went to Beta Alpha Omega fraternity after learning the news of Osama bin Laden’s death, curious to see what the commotion was about.

The house had built a fire pit and hung an unimaginably large American flag off of the porch. “We’re gonna roast a steer!” a member informed me, slurring his words. “Let’s make it whiskey Sunday! Or is it Saturday? Hell, I don’t know! Osama’s dead!”

I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Had we been somewhere in the Deep South, it would have all seemed perfectly normal. But in Hanover, I could only speculate as to which students were being ironic and which really embraced the riotous patriotism. As fraternities go, Beta is fairly multiracial and has members who span the political spectrum. That they could all agree on blaring country music to mark the announcement of Bin Laden’s death suggests that their celebratory unity was masking deep-seated differences.

Abandoning our ambivalences in favor of coherence and unity is a skill Dartmouth students have mastered, from our first DOC Trips to the moment we discovered the socially equalizing power of alcohol. I like to call it “greenwashing.” Unfortunately, by painting over our differences instead of questioning the ideologies underlying our drive towards unity, we’ve enabled this institution to perpetuate hypocrisy and injustice.

For example, nearly all of the seniors on campus are happy that Conan O’Brien will be our commencement speaker. The College followed this wave of excitement with the much less-publicized announcement that former President George H. W. Bush will receive an honorary degree an obvious hat tip to the alumni who fear the demise of Old Dartmouth. Among other atrocities, Bush Sr. is responsible for the deaths of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians during the first Gulf War two thirds more deaths than we attribute to Bin Laden and the illegal invasion of Panama for domestic political gain thinly veiled as a “human rights intervention.” Why isn’t our cheer for Bin Laden’s death met with equally raucous protest over the College’s decision to honor a warmonger?

Or, to take an example in the negative, The Dartmouth columnist Roger Lott ’14 has provoked the ire of countless students with his offensive and factually deficient regurgitation of Fox News talking points. Lott is an easy target in our haste to criticize him, we forget how his arguments are so irrelevant to the mainstream campus discourse. Nobody is seriously considering eliminating financial aid (“Education on Credit,” April 18) or permitting handguns on campus (“Arms and the Students,” Feb. 22). Lott’s Tea Party rhetoric distracts us from the dangerous political ideology that actually dominates campus: unregulated free-market capitalism, which the College endorses through its promotion of Wall Street recruiting and the prominence of our right-wing economics faculty. The laissez-faire dogmatism at Dartmouth spawns alumni responsible for the corrupt Wall Street practices that led to the global financial crisis. When we direct all of our anger towards an irrelevant hack like Lott, we evade fighting our complicity in larger injustices.

Our open revolt against Dartmouth Dining Services is yet another example of unity that misses the bigger picture. The new Class of 1953 Commons is a dramatic improvement over the dilapidated old FoCo, and signals to me that DDS is finally modernizing its offerings. Yet students have gone so far as to appropriate the language of the civil rights movement in over-publicized protest of the relative rise in cost for the change to our dining system. If the new cost of DDS makes you angry, why not protest the unreasonably high sticker price of our college degree in the first place? By focusing merely on the cost of our meal plan, students have preemptively forfeited the right to know where our other $45,000 of yearly tuition goes a much larger crisis of transparency. Indeed, in terms of administrative secrecy, the unexplained departures of three women of color in the administration seems much more problematic than an undemocratic change to buffet-style eating.

At Dartmouth, we are constantly reminded to have fun. The phrase “work hard, play hard” implies that the lessons we learn in the classroom are incompatible with how we choose to party or socialize. This cognitive dissonance encourages us to put aside our differences and our critical thinking skills to further an artificial sense of unity. Only if we refuse to greenwash our experience can we uncover the hidden ideologies guiding both Dartmouth and society at large.

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