Enjoy the Silence

For all his inattention, President Jim Yong Kim presided over a relatively stable period for student life at the College

For all his inattention, President Jim Yong Kim presided over a relatively stable period for student life at the College

Dear freshmen, transfer students, first-year graduate students, and all newcomers to the Dartmouth community,

Today, as you’re hitting your stride here and cobbling together the courses and activities that will form your personal path through the years ahead, I’m writing to offer a glimpse of the broader moment at the College. No one is unaware of the fact that Dartmouth has been through the wringer over the past few years, with changes and crises on every imaginable front. But parsing through the specifics of the four-year saga can help us get a feel for what was lost, and a sense of gratitude for the budding peace of our current moment.

When I matriculated five falls ago with the Class of 2014, Dartmouth was coasting under the inexplicably steady hand of former President Jim Yong Kim. Inexplicable because Kim poured only a tiny fraction of his talent and energy into managing student affairs, and instead used his time in the spotlight to angle for a higher position in his own field of public service (he’s currently serving as the president of the World Bank). But as his attention drifted from budget concerns to public health initiatives, he inadvertently preserved an open, stable space for students to govern our own affairs. After a decade of drama under Kim’s predecessor James Wright, Greek houses were enjoying a brief period of independence and vigor, within the loose confines set by Dartmouth’s Office of Greek Letter Organizations and Societies. And more broadly, for all the chatter about flaws in the undergraduate experience and calls for urgent reforms, this era was marked an incredible lack of self-consciousness regarding the Dartmouth experience that seems remarkable in retrospect.

Perhaps that moment could never have lasted, but no one could have predicted the dramatic specifics of the events that shifted Dartmouth’s tone. As much as it pains me to draw introduce the story to anyone lucky enough to have escaped it until now, it must be said that the first and most poignant turning point was Andrew Lohse’s Greek exposé. By the time Lohse published his chronicle of hazing excesses in The Daily Dartmouth, he was no newcomer to the art of “cultural criticism”. He served a brief stint as a staffer at this very paper before defecting to condemn our culture on the pages of Dartmouth Free Press, our now defunct progressive counterpart. Though his descriptions of fraternity rites and rituals were certainly based in some deal of truth, the dark conclusions he drew about Dartmouth’s social life in general were wild exaggerations. Once Rolling Stone and other national outlets seized on the story’s bombast, the administration was gripped by the pressure to protect our image at any cost. The Lohse piece was compounded by some ill-advised party themes and more unfortunate fraternal antics, and the sum was a chain reaction of fury that put Parkhurst and the Greeks on a permanently adversarial footing.

Outside the realm of student institutions, a type of zealous reformism has plunged Dartmouth’s broader culture into a similar state of constant edge. In truth, we’re blessed to have escaped the worst of the repressive political correctness wave that has swept through so many other schools. But at the end of the day, outbreaks like the “Dartmouth has a problem!” Dimensions show protest in 2013 and the Freedom Budget occupation of the President’s office in the next spring show that our own contingent of oddball radicals can be a force to be reckoned with too.  Admittedly, these goals that these students fight for are usually good ones at their core; respect across racial and sexual boundaries for instance. The problem, of course, is the legalistic approach they’ve adopted to frame and advance their vision of a more perfect Dartmouth. Foregoing the vital tool of discernment, which we ought to use to decide where real social evils exist on our campus, students of this type cling to simple definitions of what behavior is acceptable and apply them without an ounce of self-doubt. It’s unclear how much this spirit was accelerated by the Lohse debacle and Greek drama. But regardless, it emerged at about the same time and forms a kind of strange companion to the administration’s current personality. Misguided students who’ve lost their faith in Dartmouth’s independent student life constantly call for our administrator-parents to lay down all new sorts of repressive laws. Even students who are several levels removed from the front lines of this culture clash can’t shake the prickle of guilt they feel when they use a term or make a comment that’s just outside the lines of the radicals’ strict limits.

By now you’ve probably felt the lingering dampness of this spirit on campus, and even experienced a few outbursts of student and administrative zeal over these past three weeks. But myself and others with a longer view of things are also seeing signs that the worst of this moment is behind us. Not because students have rejected political correctness or circled the wagons around student freedoms in a way that seems permanent, but simply because the reformist passion has largely run its course. President Hanlon’s Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative put a swept in a hodgepodge of mostly minor but concrete changes that have helped deflate a bit of the agitators’ angst, and the Alpha Delta derecognition the next term showed that Parkhurst’s demands were far from toothless. As a result, The D’s once steady flow of discontented op-eds has slowed and the most vocal advocates of ceaseless change have retreated to their corners, chatting mostly with their cohorts in you-know-which academic departments.  The new Dartmouth is different in many ways, but the dream of perpetual revolution has fortunately fizzled, and good money seems to say there’s no big shocker around the corner.

So where to from here? Well, there are two distinct approaches to a return to normalcy like ours. The easiest and likeliest move is to resume blissful detachment from the ongoing conversation about Dartmouth’s rules and ideal. This is a good and legitimate first step to doing Dartmouth right; the College still offers the most unknowably splendid four years you could ever hope to find, and there’s no surer way to miss that fact than to spend every minute locked in a critical thinking mindset when you could be soaking it in. But while you enjoy the silence, please do keep your eyes fixed on the delicate goods that remain here, and prepare to speak and fight for them. We face enough pressure to tidy up and adapt every nook of student life from the administrators above. Let’s not wait for the next wave of crises before we tighten our grip around each enduring pleasure of Dartmouth’s independent student life.

 

Surely and sincerely yours,

Mene O. Ukueberuwa, Editor-in-Chief

  • Cloud Starchaser

    So what’s up with Jim Yong Kim and The World Bank Group these days? What I’m saying is it turns out the real father of a child who they take after is what black girls call the baby daddy which is a guy the mother has feelings of sexual love for and it’s not necessarily the same guy as who the DNA comes from (although it could be but it could also be another guy). So I’m the father of Ivanka Trump’s son Theodore it turns out as Theodore Kushner is really my son with Jared Kushner’s DNA and pretty much everyone who knows how it works agrees this is the real way and the only people opposed to this are like people who are like supporting a system based on construct that isn’t really true for some sort of political reason. Saying the real father of a child is the genetic parent who the DNA comes from isn’t really true but some people support a dishonest system for political reasons. Unfortunately Ivanka Trump is still unable to contact me directly despite my being Theodore’s father as our current social system WAS built on this dishonest construct for political reasons. And the principle force preventing her from being able to do so is The World Bank Group as Donald Trump supports her being able to contact me and it is really The World Bank Group who has the political issues with this. Anyways I guess they are working it out now so I’ll just have to wait on them to work it out as there’s nothing more I can do from this point to speed things along of my own initiative. Now my birth name was Justin Massler and Cloud Starchaser is what I legally changed my name to in 2006 and then I’m who they call Jesus Christ as well in that I am The Avatar of The Christ God who Spiritual Christians like Khloe Kardashian, Demi Lovato, and Justin Bieber all call Jesus Christ. I’m also the real Harry Potter as well as Harry Potter in the movies in which Daniel Radcliffe plays the character is a Christ Allegory and thus a fictional version of me. Other Christ Allegories like Neo in The Matrix as played by Keanu Reeves and Star-Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy as played by Chris Pratt are all versions of me as well. But all the characters from movies like these are real people so every Harry Potter Character is an actual real person where Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape from the original movies are Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman in real life and Trinity from The Matrix movies as played by Carrie-Anne Moss is Ashley Arenson from Phillips Exeter Academy’s Class of 2003 in real life. The Harvard Inquisition was trying to suppress the truth of this from being known but I managed to overcome that using the same legal defense Galileo Galilei presented against The Roman Inquisition in 1633 when he was being tried for heresy for espousing the scientific theory of heliocentricity which was heretical yet true as my theories are!!!