The Undying Allure of Clichés

Telling the story of Dartmouth College is a tough task. The place is just small enough that most students feel like we can get a grasp of it before we graduate. But we also realize that our perspective is limited, and that there are countless currents in academic and social life running through the College that we’ll never experience first-hand.

For seemingly every campus issue, there exists a bloc of students and faculty willing to take certain dubious arguments about that issue for granted.

For seemingly every campus issue, there exists a bloc of students and faculty willing to take certain dubious arguments about that issue for granted.

Our self-doubt shouldn’t stop us from trying. If we really believe that we’re doing more here than putting one foot in front of another toward a degree, we ought to take a shot at sorting through the ways Dartmouth has enriched us and the areas where it needs improvement. The Dartmouth Review is just one of many voices on campus trying to live up to that challenge week by week.

Like every noble task, however, the temptation to cut corners when writing is pretty strong. Unable to dig deep and uncover something interesting, important, and true about Dartmouth on a consistent basis, campus pundits sometimes opt to reach down well of pre-packaged clichés about the College. Columns, blogs, and letters to the editor recycle the same narratives, saying, “students need to be individuals,” “the Dartmouth bubble is suffocating us,” and “Dartmouth needs to compete with Harvard and Yale on this or that metric.” These straight-from-the-shelf opinions usually taste of a bland vanilla and are often simply untrue. Their endurance lies in the way in which they breeze through the ears and confirm the notions of uncritical readers.

Of course, a claim like this requires an example. Fortunately, the most recent publication year has provided plenty. One student opinion of this mold that made a splash this year was “Defending Corporate Recruiting,” by Kevin Xie, a staff columnist at The Dartmouth. Xie’s analysis of Dartmouth’s on-campus recruiting process was certainly biting, but about two of his paragraphs are enough to reveal that his claims are just harshly worded tropes that observant students could disprove in seconds.

“The culture of cutthroat competition is enough to drive anyone insane,” Xie wrote in his first shot at a defining statement about recruiting. He continued to add that, “there are no professors or teaching assistants to ask for guidance — everyone is seemingly on their own.” The first claim should raise a red flag even if we grant that Xie was exaggerating. For all the stress that recruiting candidates report as resume-drop draws nearer each term, very few would say that their job hunt was competitive to the point of being “cutthroat.”

Go ahead and ask one of the many juniors prepping to start at a summer consulting internship, or, yes, even one of the many students who came through the process without an offer. For every story you hear about disillusionment with Dartmouth’s shallow, competitive culture, you’ll hear many more about classmates, sorority sisters, and other peers doing hours of case prep together or recommending books about financial modeling to one another. In reality, students are consistently watching each other’s backs during the corporate recruiting process, even when they’re fully aware that the friends they’re helping out are applying for the same selective positions.

Xie’s second claim, that job applicants are “seemingly on their own,” is even more incandescently false. Along with the aforementioned peer and upperclassman collaborators, corporate job seekers have a deep and eager alumni network to reach out to for tips (and often a leg up in the interview process) and an entire dedicated Center for Professional Development, with multiple full-time advisors, to field questions during 30-minute sessions. Xie’s opinion was too wrong to be merely lazy; at a certain point we should recognize that writers are often deliberately ignorant when reaching for a way to make their point.

A quick glance at the comments on the online version of Xie’s piece lets us rest assured that readers didn’t buy the pitch (“You didn’t really make an argument here,” begins the most upvoted response). But a more tactfully worded takedown of recruiting could have won more readers over, without being any truer. For seemingly every campus issue, there exists a bloc of students and faculty willing to take certain dubious arguments about that issue for granted.  This holds all the more true if the author paints Dartmouth in a sinister light.

These opinions start with that earnest drive to explore a part of the Dartmouth story. But if the writers on this campus want that story to have a positive effect, rather than just reinforce a few old notions, we have to wrack our brains and make sure every new entry is valid and fresh. God knows the College isn’t flawless, but before lobbing out another critique of the D-Plan or Dartmouth Dining Services, it couldn’t hurt to ask, “Is there anything better to say?”