top of page
camille desmoulins.jpg

The Great Appear Great Because We are on Our Knees. Let Us Rise!

Sept 8, 2023

By Alex Munson

INTERVIEW: DSA's Internationalist Experiment: News Articles

“The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!” - French revolutionary slogan, possibly by Camille Desmoulins (1760–94) 

On Dublin’s O'Connell street, this quote, transcribed in French, English, and Irish, adorns three sides of the striking bronze statue of 20th century union organizer James ‘Big Jim’ Larkin. Visiting the statue this spring, I was struck with how accurately this revolutionary rallying call could apply to the institutional and systemic problems that people are increasingly turning their attention towards. Considering the average first-year experience at Dartmouth, many students, myself included, enter college with feelings of imposter syndrome that render them afraid to stand out from their peers or to ask the wrong questions in class. In Larkin’s rhetoric, such students, by no fault of their own, are on their knees and thus unable to see the persistent systemic inequalities present in many aspects of the college. To many newly admitted students, it seems as if the institution, its administration, and its students are beyond reproach, and that the most important thing is simply to prove that you belong. But this is a delusion. 

Reflecting on three years at Dartmouth, the truth is that the students and administration here aren’t that great; at least, certainly not compared to the image of Dartmouth I held arriving on campus in my freshmen fall. As many first years do, I felt like I didn’t belong and that I couldn’t live up to the meticulously constructed image of Dartmouth that existed in recruitment material and campus tours. It took me over a year to realize that such a Dartmouth does not and has never existed. Unfortunately, you should all expect to be disappointed by the inaction of the administration, to hear and read unabashedly hateful rhetoric thrown around casually by privileged students, and to learn of many long-time injustices that the college continues to perpetrate. When these things do rise to your attention, don’t be complacent in your silence. To this end, this article is intended to recount the troubles and regrets of an upperclassman so that new students may more easily see the college as it is. 

Part I: The Great Appear Great Because We Are On Our Knees 

During my first few terms, I hesitated to speak my mind in class, to rebuke certain peers when they would reveal traces of insidious bigotry, and to seek out involvement in student groups. With Covid social restrictions in full-effect, I was happy just to meet the other people on my floor. At first, we chatted about video games we liked or hobbies we had in common. We

were all happy to have a small social circle in a time when social interactions were few and far between, and as a result I was blind to all early signs of their problematic behavior. After all, these were Ivy league students and their approval and acceptance seemed vital to my happiness at Dartmouth. When one student wanted to break covid protocol to drink in a stranger’s dorm room, I was hesitant but didn’t speak up because that would make me a killjoy. When another affluent student revealed he would be voting for Trump, stating proudly “You care about the environment; I care about my wallet”, I stopped myself from arguing with him because I didn’t want to disrupt the cohesion of the only social group I had. As similar occurrences piled up one after another, I began to believe that all Dartmouth students must be like the ones I shared a floor with, and that to speak my mind would only earn me social isolation. While each and every incident upset me more deeply than the last, I couldn’t see past my own fear of social retribution and so, regretfully, I maintained my silence. 

In my academics as well, I found myself constantly on edge, anxious that I may say the wrong thing or ask a stupid question. These anxieties are common among first years, but even knowing that did not make them feel any less real. When I found myself struggling with certain coursework during my freshman spring, I didn’t let myself attend tutoring or ask too many questions in class lest I be found inadequate for an Ivy League education. This anxiety about my grades, coupled with an increasingly poignant feeling of not belonging among my peers, led to many hours of lost sleep and a vicious spiral of self-disapproval that I hope all incoming students can avoid. 

Part II: Let Us Rise 

It was only a matter of time before I worked up the courage to break away from the students I had the misfortune of meeting in my freshman fall. The decisive finisher came one night in late Spring, when I overheard one member of that group ask another “who was the n****r?” in reference to a black student who they had just met at a small social gathering. At first I wasn’t even sure it had actually been said, such was the bare-faced hatefulness of it all. As a knee-jerk reaction, I wanted to hit the one who spoke, but instead I froze in shock and only managed to stammer out a sharp-tongued disapproval before hurrying back to my dorm room. 

I had finally been forced to confront the deeply hateful nature of this group of students who’s disapproval I had all too long feared. At the same time, I finally discovered a like-minded

and inclusive community at Phi Tau, a gender-inclusive greek house, and made many good friends there, helping me to regain self-confidence and to find security through companionship. Academically, I finally found my footing some time afterwards. As with my unfulfilling social life, I had let notions of what people said I should do triumph over what I actually wanted to do. I had taken up a major that I hated because it was the only one the people around me seemed to respect, and stuck through it for a year before coming to my senses. Shifting my focus to a dedicated ASCL and digital arts degree, I began to perform better academically and could finally take real pride in my work. I found professors who cared about me and wanted me to succeed, and classmates who shared my passion for these subjects. 

It wasn’t until my junior year that I finally started sharing the hateful things I had heard during my first year, as I had thought it better to try and forget about the whole thing and simply enjoy post-Covid college life. However, after seeing Big Jim Larkin in Dublin, I remembered my own journey as a new student and came to realize how important it is that new and prospective students understand what I have come to learn; a deep creed of hate lives on among a portion of the student body, lying hidden behind Dartmouth’s veneer of excellence and prestige. I sincerely hope that any readers, and especially any new students, will learn from my experiences as well as my shortcomings so that they may overcome the Ivy League illusion quicker than I could. Speak up for what is right, seek out new ways to guide the student body towards positive change, and don’t feel ashamed if the ideal student lifestyle you dreamt up in high school seems out of reach. Most importantly, remember that there is a community of inclusive and supportive students and faculty here as well; you do belong here and you will never be alone. 

Now that I, and hopefully to some degree you too, have come to see Dartmouth as a flawed institution with a sizable population of deeply prejudiced students, I would like to investigate why it is that the racist students I interacted with felt so comfortable sharing their bigotry in the first place. It is a matter of serious concern that the hateful students about whom I have been writing are not by any means outcasts on the fringes of Dartmouth student society. All of them successfully rushed fraternities, entered relationships, and many have landed competitive internships in their fields. On paper, they might appear as ideal students, though perhaps their GPAs could use a boost. From my own experience, I know that they are not simply hiding their bigotry; rather, these students and no doubt many like them are being accepted and processed through the college while wearing their biases proudly on their sleeves.

Part III: Contextualizing Hate at Dartmouth 

Perhaps the fact that outwardly racist students can succeed here should not come as a surprise; after all, Dartmouth College has always been a slow learner. Built by enslaved people as a school for the ‘civilizing’ of Native Americans (a community that the college utterly failed to even begin serving until the 1970s), as of 2019 Dartmouth still lagged behind its Ivy League contemporaries in publishing a ‘Major Report’ on the college’s history of slavery [1], something Brown had published their own equivalent of in 2006. 

Certain student groups share in this history of racist violence as well. For example, in 1986 ten members of the student publication The Dartmouth Review violently tore down structures built by student demonstrators protesting college investment in Apartheid South Africa [2]. At the time, about 30% of the college’s endowment (roughly $63 million [3]) was invested in companies that engaged in business in South Africa [4], and though the students who attacked the structures were suspended, the town of Hanover and the college proceeded to remove the protestors’ shanty town soon after. Furthermore, as pointed out by Lest the Old Traditions Fail, a visual exhibit by Dartmouth students that explores the college’s history of structural racism, similar behavior was repeated in 2016 when a group of students tore down BLM posters in Collis student center. Even more recently, a Dartmouth Review editor who has since left the college was charged with the disgusting and shameful antisemitic act of vandalizing a menorah on the Green [5] in winter 2020. Considering their members’ involvement in 1986 and 2020, perhaps violence against minority voices is part of the ‘Old Dartmouth’ that The Dartmouth Review is so proud of preserving [6].


Gender discrimination also finds an old home at the college. Women were only admitted to Dartmouth in 1972, and even now a gender-binary Greek system continues to define campus 

social life. Moreover, there are 57% fewer female tenured/tenure-track professors than there are male [7], and of these only 32 are ‘minority’ women compared to 93 white women, with a greater racial disparity for male professors [8]. 

The fact that some of these events occurred in the 70s and 80s may lead certain readers to think that Dartmouth has since corrected its track; unfortunately, recent events prove otherwise. As mentioned earlier, in 2016 a group of students tore down portions of a BLM protest piece in Collis student center. Moreover, the college caught more flak for immoral investing practices in 2012, when it was accused of funneling endowment funding into trustees’ firms [9]. Further contemporary examples of institutional discrimination at Dartmouth have already been given in this piece, and even then I have not explored the problematic nature of the college's close relationship with fossil fuel giant Irving Oil, the fact that the college continues to consider legacy status in admissions, or the glaring absence of any comprehensive Asian-American studies program. Considering these shortcomings, it seems for now that the college and at least some portion of its students are rather disinterested in correcting past injustice. 

Considering the living and continuing history of both non-action by the college and active racism by many students, is it really a surprise that I would happen to meet so many students with discriminatory views during my freshman year? I think not, and unfortunately that means you may very well meet similar students during yours. This campus has fostered a culture that appeals to racists, homophobes, anti-semites, christian nationalists, and just about any other type of bigot that you can name. And when Dartmouth insists on a policy of treating ‘both sides’ as equals, oppressor and oppressed, racist and victim-of, a culture of normalized hatred emerges. This institutionalized discrimination also has the consequence of rendering the majority of students who come to Dartmouth without such prejudice more comfortable with visible and invisible intolerance in society. Racist students have always found a home at Dartmouth, and no doubt will continue to do so for generations to come unless there is a radical shift in student and admin attitudes. On behalf of the ‘24 senior class, I look forward to seeing the class of ‘27 prove its mettle in the fight for a new Dartmouth. 


1 Wertlieb, Mitch. “Dartmouth Grapples With Founding's Legacy Of Slavery.” Vermont Public. Sept. 13, 2019.

2 Wald, Matthew. “DARTMOUTH SUSPENDS 12 FOR ATTACK ON SHANTIES.” The New York Times. Feb. 12, 1986. 

3 “Apartheid Fuels Dispute at Dartmouth : Students Tear Down Shantytown Protesting Policy on S. Africa.” Los Angeles Times. Jan. 21, 1986 

4 “Destruction of Pro-Black Displays.” Lest the Old Traditions Fail. May 27, 2016. 5 Sasser, Andrew. “Former Dartmouth student charged with vandalizing menorah on Green in December 2020.” The Dartmouth. Dec. 21, 2021 

6 Skrod, Matthew. “Editorial: Preserving the ‘Old Dartmouth’.” The Dartmouth Review. April 10, 2023. 

7 “Faculty Annual Summary.” Dartmouth Office of Institutional Research. 2022.

8 Gokee, Amanda. “Dartmouth students, alumni alarmed after female professor of color denied tenure.” The Boston Globe. May 19, 2023. 

9 Pressman, Aaron; Herbst-Bayliss, Svea. “Dartmouth, Brown lead Ivies in investing with trustees.” Reuters. May 31, 2012. 

Welcome to the real Dartmouth. Let us rise.

The Dartmouth Radical

bottom of page