When hundreds of potential members of the Class of 2018 arrived at the College this week, they went to events advertising the D-Plan, attended classes and saw the annual Dimensions show — this time, uninterrupted. Each of these events purported to give the prospective students access to various “dimensions of Dartmouth,” or windows into the Dartmouth experience.
The prospective students’ high spirits come at the anniversary of last year’s canceled classes and after a year of controversy that has rattled the student body, faculty and administrators alike. Little seems to be cleanly resolved — despite substantial effort on the part of students and administrators to grapple with these issues, both formally and informally. As we reflect on these events, there is one concept that keeps recurring: maintaining “the Dartmouth experience.”
We spend our four years here grasping at this vague, amorphous concept, this mythic ideal. But to move forward from division, we must destroy this concept. The Dartmouth experience is not made by joining the right Greek house, getting a 4.0 or welcoming new students with dyed hair and wild flair. Treating these facets of campus life like boxes to check off eliminates curiosity and diversity of experience, key tenets of our college-aged years.
It’s time to kill the myth.
There is no perfect or correct way to experience Dartmouth. There is no checklist of items to tick off. No experience of Dartmouth is truer or more valid than your own. Until we give up the fantasy that there is some ideal experience, some blueprint to which we must conform in order to be happy — to be “real” Dartmouth students — we can never stabilize from the year that has shaken our campus community.
This ideal has created a schism in the student body because it casts all who do not subscribe to it as existing outside the norm. Those who believe that they have been unable to enjoy “the Dartmouth experience” feel cheated. Some give up on chasing it all together, feeling defeated. When, really, they’re free. Those who believe that they are living the ideal Dartmouth experience, or something close enough to it, feel the need to protect it. Any attempt to alter Dartmouth, to revise this ideal, produces knee-jerk defensiveness. The myth of the Dartmouth experience underpins our conversations about campus culture and precludes any realistic dialogue.
Why do we chase and defend this ideal that does not, and should not, exist? Why should we all want to have the same experience? The beauty of Dartmouth isn’t that it provides its students with one clean experience, the beauty is that there are thousands of possible experiences. The myth limits and misleads students, of which Dartmouth has such a rich variety. With all this multiplicity, why should we claim to provide one marketable experience?