[Print] Tour Guide Misguidance

The adventure of touring college campuses as a high school student offers a welcome relief from an otherwise hectic, nerve-racking, and impersonal college admissions process. One can pore over a Princeton Review guidebook for hours on end, but for many prospective students, the determining influence in college selection may well be a campus visit. 

Few colleges boast campuses as impressive as Dartmouth’s. When I first stepped on to The Green late in my junior year of high school, by then a seasoned veteran of college tours, I came to a tremendous realization: this is what a college should look like. At the conclusion of my tour, I had determined that Dartmouth also felt like a college should. By November of my senior year, I had long since resolved to make Dartmouth my college, and I was fortunate enough to see my aspirations reach fruition. 

No single factor was more crucial in my decision making process than that fateful campus visit, and when I had the opportunity to apply for a position as a tour guide last year, I relished the prospect of similarly influencing prospective students. This is why, as a proud Dartmouth student and tour guide, I am profoundly worried by the persistent efforts of the College leadership and Admissions Office to ruin that experience for the next generation of prospective Dartmouth students.

A few weeks ago, I returned from an off term in New York to find that a “mandatory refresher session” from the Admissions Office was required of all guides. At this session, a series of changes to the regular tour route were announced. Most were innocuous (the Hop and surrounding buildings are now to be referred to as the “Arts District,” in case anyone was wondering). However, one change to the route seemed particularly calculated and “mandatory:” tour guides are henceforth NOT to bring their groups to Webster Avenue.

On this new tour, guides will squeeze a discussion of Dartmouth’s Greek Life into the tail end of the tour, in Collis, as part of a larger discussion of campus extra-curricular options. Apparently, our Admissions Office has reshaped its tour route in the hope that prospective students and their families will overlook a certain Rolling Stone article if they don’t see Fraternity Row itself: out of sight, out of mind! Pretending, for a moment, that this thinly veiled attempt to defer attention from Dartmouth’s Greek scene is actually a well-intentioned attempt to design a more appealing tour, if I were a prospective student, I would wonder why my tour guide was off-handedly mentioning the very heart of Dartmouth’s social life between explanations of Collis Miniversity and Thursday Night Salsa. 

The fact remains: Greek Life is not just another extracurricular option. This is not to detract from the many extra-curricular activities Dartmouth offers, which are fantastic selling points. Rather, Greek Life is an option that well over half of eligible students choose to partake in; it presents a diverse and multi-faceted group of organizations for students to choose from, and it is the principal source of social life at Dartmouth. In the event prospective students fail to notice their bucolic surroundings, it is worth noting that Dartmouth is not a city school; students cannot choose among bars, comedy clubs, significant music venues, and live theatre on a nightly basis. Naturally, alternative social spaces exist on campus. But for a majority of Dartmouth students, nightlife and Greek Life are synonymous. 

The decision to omit a larger discussion of Greek Life from tours will appear to prospective students, at best, a clumsy attempt to divert attention from recent P.R. setbacks. The truly frustrating result of this revision to the campus tour, however, is that it denies guides the opportunity to highlight the truly unique and positive aspects of Dartmouth’s Greek scene. 

Critics of Greek Life loudly cite its misogynistic character, its exclusive nature, and a host of other complaints. These problems are not unique to Dartmouth’s fraternities. Rather, Dartmouth’s Greek scene is uncommonly inclusive. 

At any other school with a Greek system, a freshman male would be barred from entering a fraternity party unless he knew several brothers, or was accompanied by a number of female friends deemed suitable by the brothers of the fraternity. At Dartmouth, a student ID guarantees entry to any Greek party on campus. My friends at other schools largely rushed fraternities at the onset of freshman fall; they all live in their fraternity houses, eat their meals in their fraternities’ kitchens, and consequently develop a narrow circle of friends. At Dartmouth, these problems are absent. 

What is particularly irksome, as a tour guide, is the utter lack of autonomy afforded by the Admissions Office. Memorable tour guides are effective tour guides, and effective tour guides rarely regurgitate carefully tailored scripts. 

Apparently, the Admissions Office would rather its guides err on the side of mediocrity than be entrusted with the common sense not to mention binge drinking and Andrew Lohse’s “kiddie pools full of vomit” to their tour groups. When discussing Greek Life, guides are ordered to “stay on script” and not to “prolong the discussion” beyond the 180 words the Admissions Office deems appropriate for a comprehensive discussion of Dartmouth’s Greek system. I have managed in the past to complete my tours without terrifying any parents or mentioning my own affiliation. After Andrew Lohse’s Rolling Stone muckraking article, tour guides were even summoned to an emergency session on how to handle any questions about hazing or drinking at Dartmouth. These new measures by the Admissions Office are wholly unnecessary, contrived, and indicative of a worrying trend in the decisions of Dartmouth’s incompetent leadership. 

At risk of beating a dead horse, I would be remiss not to mention the Admission Office’s ludicrous decision to remodel the Dimensions show. In an explanatory email, an Admissions Office representative wrote to all tour guides: “This year, we are designing a welcome program that invites our admitted student visitors to see/hear how Dartmouth students are realizing their passions in significant ways.” What the Admissions Office neglects to realize is that students’ passions are realized at universities across America. A prospective student interested purely in academic prestige, extra-curricular achievement, and impressive student bodies would choose Harvard, Princeton, or Yale over our humble College. Our Dimensions show, our social life, and our quirky traditions are not insignificant afterthoughts for the Admissions Office to conceal from prospective students; they are the life and soul of the school, and the reason Dartmouth commands such fierce loyalty from its students and alumni. Hiding these aspects is incredibly shortsighted. Our system is not broken, yet the Admissions Office and administration seek to fix it. Why? Because it’s easy. It’s easy to sweep something under the rug instead of dealing with it honestly and forthrightly. It’s easy to avoid difficult subjects. But it’s not the right move, it’s just easy. 

–Jake Rascoff