Being and Dartmouthness
By Kip Dooley, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Friday, May 25, 2012
Some time ago, a female friend of mine told me she was amazed that I was both in a fraternity and a “good person.” I wasn’t sure how to respond.
On the one hand, I understood her point. I knew she’d been subjected to some pretty horrible experiences in fraternities, from guys drunkenly calling her names from their porches to sexual assault. If I were in her shoes, I would probably see fraternities in that light, too.
Welcome to Cognitive Dissonance 101. I’m in a fraternity. I’ve made great friendships there. I think it can serve a good purpose. But I’ve never been fully behind it. Oftentimes, it’s an impersonal social scene, and at times, it’s dehumanizing. There’s a time and place for drinking, but few people would dispute that it’s out of control at Dartmouth. It splits our campus in half based on gender, it encourages social labels, it creates an exclusive ethos. This is my reading of the scene here. I believe in the individuals, but not the system.
Much of my time here has been spent trying to reconcile this simple contradiction. As an underclassman, I dealt with it by ignoring the problem altogether. I found that wasn’t sustainable. Your heart will only allow you to hide your values for so long. As an upperclassman, I think I’ve dug my heels in too hard at times. I wanted to live a purposeful life, but sometimes that means putting your causes to rest for a time to just spend time with people. Sometimes it means playing pong with your friends, even if that means you’re participating in a broken system.
I’ve found solace and stability in a variety of ways, but I didn’t expect to find it through the story of an alumnus. I’ve been conducting interviews for my senior seminar paper in history and came across David, a Dartmouth lacrosse player from the late ’60s who was also involved with the anti-war protest movement.
Not surprisingly, his political beliefs made him an outsider on the team. According to his former coach, he became “something of a pariah” for his participation in the organization Students for a Democratic Society.
Here was a guy who straddled two very different worlds — radical leftist politics and varsity sports. Lacrosse, even more so in those days, was a very jock culture. Since the lacrosse world didn’t exactly espouse the values of inclusivity and pacifism, I assumed this double life must have been stressful. Surely he resented his teammates and the manly, conservative world of athletic tradition at Dartmouth.
I went into the interview expecting to hear about conflict, but instead, he talked about his love for lacrosse, his teammates and his passion for political activism. He said he felt isolated at times because most of his teammates didn’t recognize the urgency of his beliefs. But he said he loved being part of the team, even though there were many cultural aspects he didn’t agree with.
In the spring of his sophomore year, just as he was beginning to earn playing time on the varsity team, David helped lead the infamous student takeover of Parkhurst to protest the presence of ROTC units on the Dartmouth campus — a clear symbol, to someone like David at least, that Dartmouth was complicit in the war in Vietnam. After securing the building, he went up to the president’s office to make a phone call. He called his coach to tell him he wouldn’t be at practice.
David and the other protesters ended up serving 30 days in jail. The College gave most of them minor infractions, except for David. He was expelled. Officially, Dartmouth justified his expulsion by citing a small incident that had put him on probation earlier in the year. But he suspects it was because he had a foot in both worlds at Dartmouth — the more conservative circles of sports teams and fraternities and the burgeoning anti-war movement.
Years later, David went to a class reunion on a whim — he said he normally doesn’t attend reunions. A former teammate came up to him and told him how he had changed his life, how he was an inspiration to him.
When I took on the task of writing a weekly column in The D back in the fall, I did it because I wanted an outlet, a way to process all that had happened in my time at Dartmouth and all that would unfold in my senior year. Writing about yourself is important, but you can get stuck trying to define yourself through the writing.
I didn’t intend to spend my last column writing about someone who went here over 40 years ago, but perhaps it’s the only fitting note to end on. Next year, a new class of students will arrive. Each will be full of his or her own rich, complex mix of energy. They will inevitably fail to be wholly defined by the labels, images and projections they take on. I wish I could be here to get to know them.