Overtly symbolic, ‘Hunger Games’ still fails to entertain

As the last “Harry Potter” (2011) film becomes a distant memory and the “Twilight” series similarly comes to a close at the end of the year, one would think Hollywood had run out of young adult franchises, but Suzanne Collins’ enormously popular “The Hunger Games” trilogy has proven that is not so. The first movie in the series will be screened Sunday night in Spaulding Auditorium at 7 p.m.

When “The Hunger Games” (2012), the film adaptation of the first book, opened to a raucous reaction usually only elicited by the sales at Best Buy on Black Friday there were talks of expanding the trilogy into a tetralogy. I myself, having never read the books, decided to check out the movie to see what the fuss was about. After about two and a half hours of post-apocalyptic child warfare, the lights went back on in the theater, and I still had no idea why people were hooting and hollering over a piece of watered-down, commercialized fluff.

If you’ve been living under a rock or have had no contact with anyone under the age of 16 for the last few months, “The Hunger Games” takes place in the future country of Panem that is created after the United States collapses. In retaliation for a past rebellion, Panem holds a contest every year in which one boy and one girl from each district is chosen to fight to the death in the titular Hunger Games. Katniss, played by Jennifer Lawrence, volunteers for the Games so her sister, played by Willow Shields, doesn’t have to go. Paired with her peer Peeta, played by Josh Hutcherson, the two set off to the Capitol in a literal fight for their lives.

Before I go on, I should bring up my main concern with the film, which is the overarching reason why I don’t like it: The core of the film is about children killing other children despite the overt ideological metaphors of Panem (totalitarianism is bad!), Katniss (feminism is heroic!) and Peeta (true love will conquer all!). I didn’t realize the full repugnancy of the child warfare plot line until I tried to explain the “Hunger Games” to my father, who recoiled in disgust.

While a bit off-putting, I’m totally fine with the driving plot of the film. My beef with “Hunger Games” lies instead in how saccharine the violence is. It doesn’t have to go “Battle Royale” (2000) in its approach to violence a little realism could have gone a long way. There’s little to no bloodshed, most of the killings are done off screen and the murders that are shown are either the “bad guys” who kill indiscriminately and aren’t so nice to the other contestants, especially Peeta or Katniss’ friends. Even their deaths, however, are done with either a quick stab or a horrifying implied off-screen fatality.

One might offer an explanation for the censorship by arguing, “But what about the children! How could they watch something so violent?!” And yes, what about the children? I asked my younger brother, who had read the book, what he thought of the violence, and he said the book was actually more violent, including a scene in which Katniss shoots an arrow through someone’s neck. I’m glad they didn’t put that scene in the film, however, since the minimal bloodshed of Katniss’s victim in the film would have made even a five-year-old call bullsh*t.

What I fail to understand is if kids can read this and imagine the violence, then why on Earth can’t it be shown on screen? After all, imagination tends to be more vivid than reality. Unfortunately, in what I suspect to be tending to the lowest common denominator, the filmmakers wanted to appeal to even the most squeamish of readers at the expense of making a truly engrossing film. By this backward logic, “Fifty Shades of Grey” the erotic adaptation of the “Twilight” series should be required reading in high schools.

Violence aside, the film isn’t made particularly well. If you’re prone to motion sickness, I must warn you that the first 30 minutes or so will be absolute hell for you. The camera moves and shakes so much that I began to wonder whether they shot the film on the San Andreas Fault. Some scenes and sets, like the Capitol, look so green-screened that it’s like the film was made following the George Lucas book of filmmaking (hint: that’s not good).

Yet, the film does excel in one area: its acting. I must say that Lawrence was perfect for the role of Katniss in her intensity. This is not surprising, however, since Katniss is a flashier version of Lawrence’s Oscar-nominated role in “Winter’s Bone” (2010). The biggest surprise for me was Lenny Kravitz as Katniss’s stylist Cinna, who acts as a formidable advisor and lends gravitas to an otherwise silly movie. Not all the acting choices, however, were good. All I’ll say about Hutcherson is that he was as useless as the bags of flour he carries around in the film. The relationship between him and Katniss is like Mario and Princess Peach, except he’s the princess and she’s the plumber.

Daily Debriefing

Brown University will pay $31.5 million to Providence, R.I. to offset the city’s budget deficit and prevent a bankruptcy filing, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported. Under the new deal, Brown will provide an additional $3.9 million per year on top of what the school already pays for the next five years, followed by $2 million annually until 2022. The payments will begin this fiscal year, which ends on June 30, bringing the university’s total annual contribution to municipal coffers to $8 million, The Chronicle reported. The agreement is the latest in a series of movements by various city leaders to turn to universities which are exempt from property taxes for revenue support in overcoming budget deficits created by pension plans.

Harvard University will invest $60 million in free, interactive online education for students in the form of massively open online courses, or MOOCs, Inside Higher Education reported. Harvard will collaborate with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has its own MOOCs platform, called MITx, to create edX. The two institutions expect that other peer universities will join the edX platform, allowing worldwide educators access to courses offered by the participating institutions from a single website, Inside Higher Ed reported. EdX follows initiatives by Stanford University, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of California, Berkeley to offer courses online, Inside Higher Ed reported.

In a column for the Chicago Tribune, writer Rex Huppke recently declared the death of facts, which have been replaced by rumor, innuendo and “emphatic assertion” as the determinants of truth. Following an allegation by Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., that 80 Democratic members of Congress belong to the Communist Party a claim he defended even after it was proven false Huppke suggested that if a politician can fully support an untrue statement, facts must be “meaningless and dead.” Dartmouth government professor Brendan Nyhan said on National Public Radio that this phenomenon exemplifies the “backfire effect,” an effect in which people’s biases determine whether or not they will accept a statement as true, and offering them information that proves the contrary can result in even more faith in the original fallacy.

Holzer explores Lincoln’s legacy

National Humanities Medal recipient Harold Holzer spoke Wednesday about the influence of Abraham Lincoln's legacy on U.S. presidents over time.

Abraham Lincoln’s vision has influenced a number of modern presidents who seek to emulate his legacy, though some have distorted his beliefs in order to justify their actions, Harold Holzer, chairman of the Lincoln Bicentennial Committee and the 2008 recipient of the National Humanities Medal, said in a Wednesday lecture in Filene Auditorium.

Holzer spoke about Lincoln’s influence as the most imitated and admired American president and about the tendency of both Republican and Democratic political figures to align themselves with the 16th president in the lecture, titled “Why Lincoln Matters: To Presidents, to History and to Us.”

Lincoln became a canonized political figure the moment he was assassinated, and conservatives and liberals alike have fought to claim him as their own, according to Holzer. Since 1865, Lincoln has been used to back a wide variety of policies and actions by presidents ranging from Theodore Roosevelt to Barack Obama, but only some of whose policies align with what Lincoln actually supported, Holzer said.

People across the nation likened Lincoln to a “second-coming messiah” or “latter-day Moses,” a detail highlighted by his death on Good Friday, Holzer said. Republicans seized Lincoln’s image immediately after his death in an attempt to win votes in the years following the Emancipation Proclamation, when the Democrats held the South, according to Holzer.

“It was a miraculous elevation for someone who was one of the most controversial and severely criticized politicians,” Holzer said.

Not until the dawn of the 20th century did the Democrats begin to embrace Lincoln, according to Holzer. William Jennings Bryan was the first to “expand his niche,” and Presidents William Howard Taft and Woodrow Wilson both associated themselves with Lincoln in the 1912 election.

Wilson used Lincoln’s legacy to justify World War I and published war bonds that featured Lincoln’s face. Holzer emphasized the irony in the use of the “Great Emancipator’s” image by a man who re-segregated the federal bureaucracy.

Almost every president has tied himself to Lincoln, according to Holzer. During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt compared European dictatorship to slavery during the Civil War in an attempt to emulate Lincoln, Holzer said. Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon perceived themselves as “heirs to the legacy of hunkering down and fighting on,” Holzer said.

“The association with Lincoln is something that happens to every president,” he said. “It’s personal and deeply felt.”

Of all of the heads of state, Obama has emphasized and been rewarded the most by the public for his similarities to Lincoln, according to Holzer. The president has mentioned Lincoln by name 82 times since 2009, Holzer said.

Holzer said he does not expect the historic fascination with Lincoln to diminish in the coming months and years. While critics may fault the continued Lincoln discourse, Holzer suggested that historians’ and politicians’ interest lies in the belief that “the view of the future [is] inflected on the past,” he said.

Kelsey Heinen ’13, who attended Holzer’s lecture, said she was interested to discover the bipartisan nature of interest in Lincoln’s legacy over time.

Peter Gilbert ’76, executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council, said he chose Holzer as a speaker due to his prominence as a Lincoln historian. The lecture was co-sponsored by the history department and the Vermont Humanities Council as part of the Nachman Fund in History and the “First Wednesdays” lecture series.

NAFTA enables export of obesity, report finds

The North American Free Trade Agreement’s liberalization of trade policies has allowed the United States to export obesity to Mexico, according to an April 5 study co-authored by David Wallinga ’83. The report, which was published in the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health, suggests that the exportation of American goods such as processed food, corn and soybeans contributed to a 12 percent increase in obesity in the Mexican population between 2000 and 2006.

An individual’s food environment, or the nutritional resources available, influences dietary habits, according to Wallinga, who conducted the research with Karen Hansen-Kuhn, Sophia Murphy, Sarah Clark and Corinna Hawkes, his peers at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The number of unhealthy foods and convenience stores selling such foods in an individual’s vicinity affects the individual’s likelihood of gaining weight, he said.

“What we found is that there has been a change in obesity in Mexico, and it looks a lot like the obesity epidemic in the United States,” Wallinga said. “The Mexican food environment has evolved to resemble the unhealthy American food environment.”

An analysis of international trade policies and obesity rates in Mexico revealed that obesity rates began to increase shortly after NAFTA’s inception in 1991, Wallinga said.

“If you look at the timeline of when people in Mexico started getting more overweight and obese, it coincided with NAFTA, so we wanted to dig deeper and see how changes in obesity coincided with changes in trade policies,” he said.

NAFTA’s loosening of trade regulations between the U.S., Canada and Mexico allows for an open flow of goods between the three countries, including food products detrimental to human health, Dartmouth geography professor Susanne Freidberg said. As a result, Mexico can import the products it does not produce itself or cannot produce cheaply.

Since 1991, Mexico’s importation rates of corn, soybeans, sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and livestock products has increased, Wallinga said. The corn and soybeans are processed into high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated vegetable oil, respectively, he said.

Increased consumption of processed dairy products, soft drinks, processed meat and ready-to-eat snacks high in fats and sweeteners can also be traced to the increased availability of these goods in the country, according to Wallinga.

“Mexico is exporting what we call healthy foods and importing more unhealthy foods,” Wallinga said.

NAFTA has also directly affected the Mexican economy by pitting the goods of small-scale farmers against mass-produced American goods in the marketplace, according to the study. Many farmers cannot compete, creating a rise in unemployment.

In addition, NAFTA altered foreign investment rules, intensifying American investment in the Mexican food supply chain, Wallinga said. Beverages, oilseed processing and processed foods are the largest recipients of American investment, and investment in livestock production is also surging, according to the study.

Liberalized free trade policies have allowed U.S.-based fast food retailers such as McDonald’s to expand into Mexico, which is the largest regional market for Yum! Brand, Inc., the owner of Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Long John Silver’s.

Obesity annually costs at least $170 billion in direct medical fees and reduces productivity, Wallinga said.

“Major policies like NAFTA and trade agreements in general are devised without really thinking about the health implications,” Wallinga said. “We’re saying that, Hey, obesity is a really expensive problem for any country to try and address.'”

The study was conducted over a period of approximately two years and is a continuation of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy’s research, Wallinga said. Data was obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Global Agricultural Trade System and various sources of Mexico-specific data.

The rise in obesity may be linked to additional economic factors, according to Dartmouth economics professor Doug Irwin.

“I don’t know if they can directly attribute the change in diets to the reduction in tariffs on U.S. food as opposed to the rising incomes of Mexicans that make them more like Americans in terms of their eating habits,” Irwin said. “So the question is how much of their result is due to NAFTA per se as opposed to other causes.”

Rising obesity rates in Mexico also raises concerns about the presence of food deserts, in which residents of poor urban neighborhoods must turn to unhealthy eating habits as a result of limited access to fresh foods, according to Freidberg. Ultimately, the underlying force of the institute’s study is an “environmental determinist argument,” she said.

“I don’t think that the causes of obesity are so clear-cut,” Freidberg said. “It’s important to note that there are far-reaching consequences of NAFTA for people’s health and well-being in Mexico, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a direct link between the importation of junk food and the rising obesity rate.”

Wallinga said he pursued his interest in the intersections between health, food and agriculture in medical school and emphasized the importance of environmental programs at the College.

“The study makes clear why things like the Dartmouth Organic Farm and agricultural issues in general should be a little more integrated into the academic curriculum of an Ivy League school like Dartmouth,” he said.

Alumni fill California demand for bagels

Three Dartmouth alumni, including the founder of The Basement an online platform designed to aggregate various Dartmouth student resources, including the now outdated “Web Blitz” have launched a startup San Francisco bagel company in conjunction with a former transfer student, using online technology and social media to market their New York-style bagels to Bay Area customers.

Schmendricks, which translates to “stupid person” in Yiddish, has already sold out its May 10 launch party, despite lacking a physical store and having collected all orders and consumer data via online platforms, according to co-founder and psychologist David Kover ’00.

“We have all known that you can’t get a quality bagel in the Bay Area, and we took it upon ourselves to make one,” Kover, who dubbed himself “chief authenticity officer” due to his Brooklyn roots, said.

The founders all live in the same San Francisco apartment building and comprise two married couples Kover and Dagny Dingman ’02, and Dan Scholnick ’00 and Deepa Subramanian, who spent two terms at the College as a transfer student from Smith College.

The four began experimenting with bagel recipes in their homes two years ago. In October, Scholnick suggested the group market its handmade boiled bagels, distinguished by their small size, inner density and crisp exterior. They currently rent the space necessary to produce the bagels.

Kover said displaced New Yorkers’ demand for a true boiled, East Coast bagel is the largest factor in the company’s success.

“Our biggest task right now is to scale to meet demand,” Kover said. “I don’t think we had any idea just how many people would react to it.”

In keeping with the New York style, Schmendricks offers traditional toppings such as sesame seeds, salt and “everything.”

“It’s definitely a jaw workout to eat one of our bagels,” Kover said.

To offer some April Fool’s witticism this spring, the company listed the day’s special flavors as blueberry, chocolate chip, bacon asiago and orange maple, diverse flavors that should not fall within the scope of bagel production, according to Kover.

“We kind of follow traditional making techniques,” Kover said.

Schmedricks’ main source of business comes from “pop-up” events, during which the company’s members set up stands at preset locations, according to Kover. The store also caters business events and fields pre-arranged pickups through the software Good Eggs, the mission of which is “to grow and sustain local food systems worldwide,” according to the company’s website.

Tuck School of Business professor Constance Helfat said that while social media is now nearly ubiquitous in basic business models, it is a particularly useful tool for startup companies, especially given the low cost and ability to reach a mass audience.

“You can get your customers and potential customers to tell you who they are and what they want in a way that is much more different than the old technology,” Helfat said.

Newly established stores normally rely on media and marketing to attract customers, rather than on an established culture and dining experience, Anderson said.

Long lines at Schmendricks’ pop-up events demonstrate that the company has done well in marketing its product, according to Will Goldfarb, a customer and friend of the owners.

“Schmendricks does a good job of getting the word out through Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “They let people know when and where they’ll be selling bagels well in advance and always keep in touch with their fans.”

Kover said he believes that the founders’ inclination to use social media marketing rather than traditional practices is a natural product of their environment.

“We live in San Francisco, which is the capital of tech-y kinds of things, and we saw all those kinds of services as an opportunity to get our name out there and find our customers,” Kover said.

In the coming months, the company hopes to expand and will consider the possibility of a permanent physical plant, according to the owners.

Denise Anderson, manager of Bagel Basement in Hanover, said that water quality makes a key difference in a bagel’s taste, accounting for the difference between East Coast bagels and those produced elsewhere.

“New York swears by the water it uses to make its bagels,” she said. “I think the water on the West Coast is different. It’s an entirely different atmosphere and environment. What we have on the East Coast makes it what it is.”

Vandewalle advises Libya on June election

Government professor and prominent Libya expert Dirk Vandewalle is serving as an advisor to the country’s first national election in over 50 years in the wake of the death of longstanding dictator Muammar Qaddafi. Vandewalle has over 30 years of experience studying the region and has served as an advisor to the United Nations special envoy for the United Nations Special Mission in Libya.

Although he has recently continued to teach classes at the College and lead foreign study programs, Vandewalle has remained involved in the Libyan electoral process, according to government department chair John Carey. Vandewalle served as a political advisor to United Nations Special Advisor Ian Martin last summer, helping the UN plans for the nation’s future in the aftermath of the conflict.

“The big challenge will be the elections,” Vandewalle said in a College press release. “But we should not forget that we are only a few months after the end of the country’s civil war.”

The National Transitional Council, the country’s current government, is in the process of determining the laws that will govern the elections in June, according to Reuters. Last week, the NTC passed a law banning political parties founded by tribal, religious and ethnic groups. The law’s effect on groups such as the strongly supported Muslim Brotherhood was unclear but the NTC rescinded the law on Wednesday, according to BBC.

“One of the institutions you need to build are parties, and Libya has had no parties except a formalist rule Qaddafi has built and led, and now it’s irrelevant and no one would admit to belonging to it,” government professor emeritus Nelson Kasfir said. “The problem is how to build parties in that environment.”

Vandewalle’s involvement in Libya has been publicized by a variety of international media outlets since the outbreak of the Arab Spring last winter, with many drawing on his expertise as events unfolded. It was during his time advising the government FSP in London during the fall that he learned that the Libyan dictatorship had ended after 42 years.

“Qaddafi died while we were there, so that day I think he had about 10 interviews right after class, but I think he balanced everything really well,” program participant Timothy Brown ’13 said. “It was cool to see an academic in action on the front line of everything that was going on.”

The UN Support Mission in Libya is currently working to build institutions in the region, facilitate the June elections, create a national constitution, increase security and raise election awareness, according to its website.

The UN has “made some headway on a number of issues that the country desperately needed to get settled,” Vandewalle said in the press release.

Although Vandewalle’s course during the FSP focused on the British Empire, students had the opportunity to attend his public lecture on the Arab Spring, Sahil Joshi ’13 said. Vandewalle is “wildly busy,” but his involvement has proven beneficial to students and the government department, Joshi said.

“I thought it was an added bonus to have someone who was that knowledgeable about current events there with us, and he kept us in the loop,” he said. “Especially in terms of comparative politics and international relations, we have a very strong department, so it’s great that someone’s able to put that to practical use.”

Vandewalle will teach courses at the College until next Winter term and will serve as the faculty director for the Asian and Middle Eastern studies’ Morocco FSP next spring, according to Carey.

“In the immediate term, it makes Dartmouth visible in the world, and he’ll be back next winter,” Carey said.

Vandewalle’s extensive research and fieldwork will allow him to apply his expertise in Libya’s volatile political climate, as well as in Dartmouth classrooms, according to Carey, who has also done electoral research in the region.

“Since September, he’s probably spent more time in North Africa than anywhere else,” Carey said. “He’ll bring perspective into the classroom you couldn’t get any other way.”

While Vandewalle may have initially gained access to the region due to his Belgian background, his effectiveness in the current political climate comes from his expertise and familiarity with the area, according to Kasfir.

“He’s had unusual access into Libya and therefore he’s built up a lot of contacts and a lot of friends,” Kasfir said. “He has people who he can go to and who he can talk to, some of whom are probably in high positions and some of whom are probably in prison.”

Despite the difficulties Libya faces as it moves into a post-conflict future, Vandewalle remains optimistic about the region’s stability and potential, he said in the press release.

“Obviously, the big issue now for the UN is the elections and then the writing of the country’s new constitution,” Vandewalle said. “A lot of times it’s two steps forward and one step backward, but I’m quite a bit more optimistic than I was even a few months ago.”

Feiger: The Power of Collective Voice

Jennifer Tyrrel is an engaged, passionate and caring mother. She was the den leader of her son’s Tiger Cub Scout group and performed community service work with the boys for soup kitchens, the local Salvation Army and local environmental groups. Her Boy Scouts were compassionate, resourceful, respectful and courageous, earning badges and working hard to exercise the 12 core values of scouting.

Despite all the great work she did with the boys, the Boy Scouts Association of America asked Tyrrel to leave her position as den leader because she is a lesbian. Tyrrel was justifiably outraged, and took her plight to Change.org, a forum where millions of viewers sign petitions to mobilize support for a variety of causes in hopes of encouraging change. The success of this website in creating real change exemplifies the power of the collective voice in addressing serious issues.

Change.org speaks to the collective power of the people as well as the power of passion, dedication and grassroots activism. This past December, environmentalist Stiv Wilson was able to accumulate over 100,000 signatures on the website to convince the National Park Service to re-institute the plastic water bottle ban in the Grand Canyon and ignore the pressures from the Coca-Cola Company. In a similar vein, a fourth grade class petitioned Universal Studios to stay true to the green message of “The Lorax.” After 56,000 people signed their petition, the studio agreed to include environmental messages from the book on its website. The San Francisco Giants baseball team was the first sports team to create an “It Gets Better” video against gay bullying after Giants fan Sean Chapin created a petition signed by over 6,000 fans.

In the past couple of weeks, over 260,000 people have exercised their voice on Change.org and signed Tyrrel’s petition asking the Boy Scouts of America to reinstate her as a den leader and end exclusionary policies based on sexual orientation. This outcry of public support all stemmed from Tyrrel’s ability to publicly generate awareness in a productive and widespread manner. Tyrrel used her voice to empower not just herself, but also countless others in a fight for just and necessary change.

The plight of those trying to exercise their voices and truly effect change through activism can be felt here in Hanover as well. Dartmouth can be a difficult place for students to express their voices loudly and effectively. In the past few weeks, however, there has been a concerted effort to solicit student voices and allow the College administration to hear them.

The new Google Moderator forum set up by Palaeopitus Senior Society is an innovative new tool that can deliver questions directly from the student body to the administration. The forum has promise to be wildly successful, with over 800 students participating by asking and voting on meaningful questions (“Palaeopitus seeks more prominent campus role,” May 1). More students need to participate in this forum in order to achieve power in numbers and demonstrate our dedication to the well-being of this campus.

I applaud Palaeopitus for its creative approach to addressing the frequent disconnect between the student body and the administration. Time will tell if these student questions and concerns are actually answered and addressed, but no longer can the administration say that it doesn’t know what the students want and need. It can no longer pretend not to hear us. This increased and innovative communication could lead to the change that the administration has promised in various emails and assurances to the student body.

We often take our voices for granted, choosing not to speak up because it’s easier to stay quiet and mumble our complaints behind closed doors. While a few key campus figures have spoken up against the administration’s policies, the Palaeopitus forum is a chance for this campus to unite and bring our voices together.

Jennifer Tyrell is taking advantage of the productive and necessary space Change.org has to offer her cause. We need to realize that Dartmouth’s Google Moderator forum possesses similar potential to address campus issues in an effective manner. Let us work to make this collaboration a reality. Real change comes from real people with real voices, made all the more powerful by joining together in solidarity. If we support each other, joining our voices as one, we might just finally achieve the change we need.

Miller: Scapegoating Webster Avenue

In her recent column, Dani Valdes takes a shortsighted and illogical stance against Greek life on campus (“Letting Go of a Broken Past,” April 30). Valdes displays a fundamental disconnect from reality by naively encouraging our college to commit budgetary suicide in order to appease a vocal minority who want to abolish the Greek system, as many of the alumni who donate consistently to the College are proudly Greek. By scaring prospective students and their parents, Valdes is achieving little aside from deterring those who would be most receptive to her cause from matriculating.

Dartmouth is not perfect, and neither is its Greek life. But we are one of the few colleges with completely open houses, where any student, affiliated or unaffiliated, can hang out at any fraternity and even enjoy a beer purchased by its members. Compared to the Greek systems at other colleges, especially the social clubs of our Ivy brethren, Dartmouth’s Greek houses are remarkably open, friendly, safe and inclusive. Harvard University’s exclusive Finals Clubs, for example, do not have to answer to the school’s administration and rarely allow males who are not members into their elitist domains.

The social fragmentation that Valdes suggests is “inherent to the Greek system” is inherent to any large group of humans. Like-minded individuals often termed friends group together on any college campus in the United States. Greek houses are merely an institutionalization of this phenomenon. And on this campus, fraternities and sororities can just as easily facilitate unification and foster diversity. Joining a fraternity allowed me to become friends with peers from as far away as Africa and Eastern Europe, an opportunity I likely would not have had otherwise.

Furthermore, Dartmouth’s fraternities and sororities reduce the significant risk posed by hard alcohol consumption by exclusively serving beer in their basements. Abolishing Greek life would only drive students to drink hard alcohol in their dorms, where they would not be monitored, thereby making our campus drinking culture more dangerous. Consuming beer in large social spaces monitored by Greek members who have been trained to manage social drinking and who have incentives not to let anyone get dangerously drunk is much safer than pounding shots in a small dorm room.

Hazing is, at its worst, problematic. Andrew Lohse has pointed out some of the universally detrimental hazing practices that must be eliminated (“Telling the Truth,” Jan. 25). But Greek houses have already begun to re-evaluate and reform their pledge term practices. On campus and inside Greek houses, dialogue has been opened, committees have been formed and most importantly, the problems with hazing have been identified. However, as an issue of personal choice that has no direct effect on the broader campus community, hazing simply does not deserve any more direct administrative attention.

Of all the issues raised by Valdes, sexual assault is the most deserving of attention, precisely because it does what hazing does not it hurts innocent victims and inflicts widespread damage on our community. The administration must collaborate with students to get to the root of this systemic problem. But the arguments that fraternities engender violence and that hazing somehow encourages sexual assault are illogical and bereft of evidence. Eliminating fraternities will not eliminate rape. Sexual assault will be a problem anywhere that has large quantities of students with access to large quantities of alcohol.

That said, this is neither an endorsement of the status quo nor an argument for blind adherence to tradition. Greek houses must make substantive changes to phase out malevolent hazing, the entire Dartmouth community must unite against sexual assault and the administration must equalize gender relations by recognizing more local sororities and building alternative social spaces, such as an on-campus bar that serves only beer.

But in asserting extreme options such as annihilating Greek life or mandating that all houses have open or coed membership should be “on the table,” Valdes displays an inability to understand the scale and the nuance of Dartmouth’s social problems. While reform is certainly necessary, there is still much to admire and cherish in our inclusive, diverse Greek system.

Greek life is a convenient scapegoat for campus ills. The houses on Webster and Wheelock are not blameless, but if we truly want to solve the social problems on this campus, we must dig deeper.

Men’s lightweight crew defeats Cornell, readies for Sprints

The Dartmouth men’s and women’s crew teams were both in action last weekend in the teams’ final tune-ups before their championship seasons begin. The men’s lightweight and women’s teams were at home, as the men hosted Cornell University and the women took on Cornell and the University of Alabama on the Connecticut River on Saturday. The men’s heavyweight squad traveled to Wisconsin to take on the University of Wisconsin and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The men’s lightweight team claimed the Baggaley Bowl after defeating Cornell in the first varsity eight race on a windy day in Hanover on Saturday. Dartmouth crossed the finish line in 6:04.9, almost six seconds ahead of the Big Red. Although the Big Green placed second in the second varsity eight, third varsity eight and freshman eight races, the team won the day’s most important race.

The women’s team did not fare as well, placing second in all four races against Cornell and Alabama. The first varsity eight race was the day’s closest, as the Big Red edged the Big Green by just four-tenths of a second. Cornell won the race in 6:24.0 to Dartmouth’s 6:24.4, with Alabama well back in third in 6:46.

“We were up about five or six feet for the first 500 meters, and we held that margin pretty much through the 800,” captain Jamie Chapman ’12 said. “It was an exciting race. We were hoping to maintain our margin in the second half, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

The cold and windy conditions were not ideal for racing, but Chapman said that the Big Green was undeterred by the harsh weather.

“It was freezing, but everyone has to race in that,” Chapman said. “You just tough it out. It’s no different than what we’ve had in Boston.”

Cornell scored decisive victories in the first and second varsity four races, winning the two by a combined margin of 23 seconds. The second varsity eight race was closer, as the Big Red took the victory in 6:30.9 to the Big Green’s 6:36.5. Again, the Crimson Tide were a distant third, crossing in 6:49.1.

The heavyweight men fell to Wisconsin in all three races on Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wis. on Saturday. In the first varsity eight race, the Badgers edged the Big Green by four seconds, finishing with a time of 5:49.2. Dartmouth dropped the second varsity eight race as well, finishing in 6:15.8 to Wisconsin’s 5:59.9. In the freshman eight race, the Big Green placed second in 6:05.0, just over a second back of the Badgers but well ahead of third-place MIT.

“We were really excited for the race,” captain Joe Polwrek ’12 said. “We went out, as always, really aggressive, and in the first varsity race, we got off to a pretty nice lead in the beginning. We held our lead for the first 1,000 meters. We ended up losing by four seconds, but we were really happy with how we raced.”

Polwrek added that the result of the first varsity eight boat in Wisconsin will give the Big Green confidence moving forward.

“The character of our boat is to be really aggressive, and we showed that against Wisconsin,” Polwrek said. “That gave us a lot of confidence to [continue to race aggressively].”

After a busy spring season, the Dartmouth men’s and women’s crew teams will take the weekend off from racing in preparation for some of their biggest races of the season. Both men’s squads return to action May 13 at the Eastern Sprints in Worcester, Mass., while the women’s squad will race on the same day at the Ivy League Championships in Camden, N.J.

Polwrek said that the team will use the time off to improve its fitness ahead of the season’s biggest races.

“We’re trying to ramp up the intensity and the volume,” Polwrek said. “We’re going to fit some more practice in and find some extra speed leading up to the Eastern Sprints.”