Op-ed: An excessive attachment
Published: Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 2, 2013 03:10
Perhaps one of Dartmouth’s greatest strengths is its sense of community. Students have a propensity to make strong and lasting connections over their undergraduate careers. Some of this may be borne out of necessity — the limited opportunities to escape our tiny campus both facilitates and necessitates plentiful intercommunity interaction. Alternately, we may just get close as a way to keep warm.
Paired with the ample opportunities, organizations and resources available, the remoteness of our campus ensnares us for four years in a surreality of sorts, hyper-dense with activity in the unlikely location of Northeast Appalachia. Not unlike the ecosystem on a water-locked land mass, Dartmouth naturally develops its own way of life — its own culture, habits, traditions and even language (“shmob,” anyone?). Quite naturally, Dartmouth the institution entangles itself with the very identity of the Dartmouth student.
While I have certainly appreciated the periodic metropolitan reprieve from our campus during my first three years at Dartmouth, I not infrequently found myself during those ventures feeling somewhat displaced. Polishing off a beer at the local bar, I had to restrain myself from throwing the empty can onto the ground and stomping it into what was not a fraternity basement floor. Roaming the city in vain for a late-night study spot, I yearned for the rattling pipes and damp air of the 1902 Room.
If my nostalgia for Dartmouth felt intrusive during an off-term, I can only imagine its impact once I finally graduate next June. My suspicion is supported by the hordes of graduates — from those of decades past to those who have spent a mere four months separated from this institution — who descend upon our campus every fall for Homecoming festivities. But even off campus, graduates are wont to reenact Dartmouth traditions with each other: makeshift games of pong, reiterations of spring term theme parties and Dartmouth lingo interwoven into everyday speech (“boot and rally,” anyone?).
I do not mean to ascribe this phenomenon to every matriculant, but there is clearly a strong tendency for students to take a bit of the College along with them when they graduate, just as Dartmouth welcomes back its graduates with open arms. The Dartmouth undergraduate experience seamlessly abets this phenomenon. But often I wonder whether some of our attachments to the College hold too strongly. Much has been made of the fact that Dartmouth can be an insular environment for its current students, but might there exist an overemphasis on continued engagement with Dartmouth even after graduation?
Alums holding on too tightly to Dartmouth may prevent our institution from growing. Every year, there is talk of a need to move forward: The cries come from all corners of the campus and encompass an array of issues. And every year, initial promises of change are succeeded by half-hearted fixes and general stagnation. With their fingers on the alumni donation purse strings and their classmates and kin deeply embedded in the administrative fabric of the school, certain Dartmouth graduates choose to wield their power — often silently, but sometimes quite deliberately — to promote what is ultimately their sense of nostalgia. But they are also necessarily blind to the current issues and needs of the campus community, and the specter of retracted alumni support serves primarily to strangle attempts at progress.
Something much more concerning, however, may result from the penchant for a Dartmouth obsession. That brand new graduates frequently reappear on campus and attempt to reconstruct aspects of Dartmouth outside of Hanover suggests dissatisfaction with the postgraduate world. Perhaps the Dartmouth experience does not adequately prepare its students to disengage with the College, but more importantly, the alumni impulse to hold on tight to it may prevent full engagement with the rest of the world. How effectively can we truly rise to the challenge of John Sloan Dickey and make the world’s troubles our own if we allow so much of our own world, especially in the pivotal budding stages of our initial postgraduate endeavors, to be occupied by Dartmouth?
There is, of course, an appropriate amount of alumni engagement with the campus, and that amount may run very high, but the dynamics of what could sometimes be described as a Dartmouth addiction may only serve to harm our campus currently, our institution’s legacy and Dartmouth in the eyes of the rest of the world.