Fresh-faced in the frenzy of your first Fall, you believe that you are here for a good reason, that you’ll become a changemaker and that the Dartmouth community will push you to be your best self through these best four years. You’re here to take on an opportunity that your parents could never have accessed in their historical positionings, their upbringing irrevocably altered by abject poverty in the wake of a civil war, disfigured by a cruel and brittle authoritarian socialist state. You’re uncertain what the future holds, but you are sure in this moment that you want to make an impact through your advocacy somehow: whether in saving lives as a medical provider, enacting legislation that expands access to healthcare, conducting research that trickles over to influence all of the above. You think you want this. You think the majority of your peers want to make a similar impact. You are wrong about both predictions.
Instead you find that the white supremacy, heteronormativity and economic elitism you naively thought would be distant from your Dartmouth experience runs rampant within the student body and the institutions encompassing it. Cliques inevitably form, social hierarchies that inevitably skew towards white, wealthy, conventionally attractive, able-bodied, heterosexual, cisgender, are reinforced. You feel your resolve start to crumble - why are you here? What were your parents’ decades of labor even for, if you cannot assimilate to the hallowed academic institution you wanted so desperately to attend, a school that for centuries spurned anyone like you?
In the bitterness of Winter, you watch, helplessly only permitted to take notes, as your EMS team consoles a patient who wants so badly to die. He is also a student who lives in your building, thanks to how small the student body is squeezed at Dartmouth. You think about how his cries only echo the thoughts that have lain dormant within you for years and are beginning to trickle into the open. You want to quit, you feel protective of yourself, and subsequently feel guilty for this due to years of being conditioned to believe that taking a step back to simply rest will come back to bite you. You realize the burnout and endless hours of a medical career are not for you. You try dating someone who studies Government and realize how the frustrating gridlock of influencing legislation from within a system that normalizes attacking the identity of policymakers to get a leg up, along with the unexaggerated dangers and exhaustion of organizing from outside the system, are also unfortunately not for you.
Life is absurd, you think, and decide for some months that it can all be for the plot. You take pills and feel powerful for it, hardly noticing the paranoia creeping in, your body’s increasing reliance on these ephemeral highs. They give you more energy, after all, they help carve away your appetite and body, they’re a step towards becoming the ideal Dartmouth student, that well-oiled machine that can boot and rally, the horrifying persona you tell yourself you can strive for because you are flawed anyway. Someone you would have called a friend at the time continues to sell to you - did he even pick up that you were struggling? You lick paper but instead of being assured of the bigger picture, you develop a raging fear of the unknown, of all the horrible situations and perspectives that could be unfolding before you with no warning before they engulf you whole. You grow erratic, estranging yourself from friends and family, until you fall very ill and realize you are going nowhere, that you were at the precipice of another crash and burn, that Dartmouth campus culture primes you for this stage of self-desecration, that you are one among many before you who have spiraled out of control. The absurd expectations for what it means to be worth something at Dartmouth trigger the mental health crises that may have fomented for years in students through generational trauma and self-destructive perfectionism when young.
Fast forward a year or so, and you think you’ve figured things out. You accept that you cannot relate very well to the swarm of WASPs pervading your class. You are intimidated by the tokenized people of color who also tend to have grown up in affluent, predominantly white backgrounds and appear to navigate this space seamlessly, but remind yourself that you are just as worthy as them, as anyone, of being here. You have formed comfortable friendships with fellow children of immigrants, with international students, especially if they are of color. You have mentally stabilized, you tell yourself, you know now that you cannot pour from an empty cup. You now believe that it is most crucial to tend to your own needs, to establish your own viability, before providing care for others.
And this mentality has twisted into an empty reassurance about your professional aspirations: that you are so valid to shoot for higher salaries if there are no immediate negative repercussions to your work, that at least your desired line of work is more human, more service-oriented, than most corporate jobs. You think about the classes you’ve taken on racial capitalism, on cities that increasingly rely on private funding, where gleaming office high-rises, upscale apartments, Soulcycles, Whole Foods stores pop up to displace marginalized groups already hemmed in by historic redlining. And then you think about the glamorized post-graduate fate of your fellow students, how you’ll aim to follow in their footsteps, recruiting for the best job offers that allow you time for weekend getaways, rent for a breathable living space in a safe area, disposable income for $7 lattes, gentrifying a neighborhood without having to answer directly for being the root cause of the growing unhoused population in your city. You realize that many roads, not just Dartmouth, of course, might lead you to the same destination — Dartmouth just had better marketing that melded well with your crazed desire to leave home for college and your obsession with validation from elite academic structures—until you realized Dartmouth’s systemic ugliness, and how it reflects the abyss in yourself.
This is not to say that Dartmouth is inherently an evil place, or that you are evil for prioritizing yourself in times of crisis. But it is a bleak reality to consider when you look back on how goddamn bright and impactful you hoped your future would be when you began your academic life here.
The Dartmouth Radical