Freshman year at Dartmouth

By Brett Yates and Zachary Yates

My fancy 18-year-old brother recently finished his first term at Dartmouth College. Given the school’s proximity to Killington—only 35 miles east, though perhaps somewhat more removed culturally—I proposed that he might share some thoughts about undergrad life across the Connecticut River for readers of this column. He responded as follows: College is supposed to be the “best four years of your life,” right?

In November, a notorious Rolling Stone article characterized the University of Virginia as a hotbed of sexual assault; a Columbia University student who was raped in her own dorm carries her mattress with her at all times to protest her school administration’s indifference; disgusting and sadistic hazing seems requisite to enter Greek Life at any university—all of these incidents suggest that colleges are far from safe, let alone pleasant institutions of higher learning where one can fulfill such a prophecy.

But, as a newly minted college freshman, I can happily say that my first term was one of the most enjoyable and enlightening experiences of my life, and I believe I can offer some fresh insight into the social hellscape that college today is depicted as.

My name’s Zach. I’m Brett’s younger brother, and I’m a first-year student attending Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution in Hanover, New Hampshire. Ivy League schools in particular are susceptible to media calumny; it seems like every article about the Ivies is an attempt to portray their students as a ribald group of scholars-gone-awry who have forgotten the personal ethics that earned them their places in such prestigious universities (if indeed their places were earned at all), pursuing a dangerous and hedonistic “Animal House”-esque partygoer lifestyle.

Before I go on to defend it, my school is not without fault. At Dartmouth, I’ve witnessed binge-drinking and hard drug use at fraternities. Andrew Lohse, a Dartmouth alumnus, wrote the memoir “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy,” divulging the foul and demeaning acts of hazing he had to endure to become a “brother” of a Dartmouth frat. In fact, the screenplay for “Animal House” was inspired by a writer’s time as a brother of a Dartmouth fraternity.

When the students of a particular university are supposedly among the best and brightest, the future leaders of America, any horror story looks worse, and all the wonderful aspects of life in college are quickly forgotten.

For me, an average day at Dartmouth College would consist of waking up to hastily prepare for a Chemistry lecture at 8:45a.m., shortly followed by my Introductory Anthropology lecture at 10:00. I would then have roughly an hour break that I would use for either napping or lunch, though I admit this time usually went to napping. I must also digress here to boast that I never once had ramen noodles in my first three months of college; in fact, our several dining options on campus offered a delicious variety of food that changed daily. This break preceded my American Prose course at 12:30, after which the rest of my day was free.

“Work Hard, Play Hard” is a more appropriate motto for Dartmouth than “Vox Clamantis in Deserto,” as just about everyone on my floor went to bed in the realm of 2:00 a.m. At Dartmouth, one is likely writing a paper, studying for an exam worth 35 percent of one’s final grade, lamenting the two hundred pages of reading due before tomorrow’s lecture, or dancing on the sticky basement floor of a frat before playing beer pong and drinking a shameful amount of Keystone Light. My life at an Ivy League school became a bizarre dichotomy of work and play with very little middle ground—any time not devoted to the rigors of Ivy League academics or socialization went to playing rugby and volleyball for Dartmouth or going to the gym. I did not get much sleep.

Greek Houses are the nexuses for socialization among all Dartmouth students, and though they garner some justifiably negative attention, with their rampant drinking, the hazing, and the questionable decisions made there, what I wish to do is dispel the myth that Ivy League students are, without exception, false scholars with secret propensities for hazing, excessive partying, and sexual assault.

I live on the first floor of the freshman dorm Russell Sage Hall with two roommates and 27 floor-mates, and these people are the reason why my college experience was so positive. I come from central New Jersey Suburbia, and while I knew Dartmouth was wildly diverse in its student body, I never anticipated that I would play video games with a rugby recruit from London, dance with a Swiss figure skater, study with a native Navajo girl, discuss Walt Whitman with a South African girl, hit the gym with a half-German half-Chinese guy, play volleyball with a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, or sleep in the bed next to that of a kid raised in lavish style on the Upper West Side. I live within one hundred feet of all of these people.

These people I’ve met and all of my beloved floor-mates are fascinating and brilliant individuals who have humbled me immensely, and made me realize in three short months just how impressive and interesting human beings really are. This is the college experience that goes unreported by the media—for every tragic rape or hazing incident, 27 more friendships blossom in the pursuit of academic success, and I count myself fortunate to be among such smart, creative and interesting people.

Perhaps I am simply a dewy-eyed freshman, but I do not believe these friendships will end as I evolve into a jaded Dartmouth senior. Four years from now, maybe I will write another guest column, but before another incident makes college students seem more like animals and less like students, let me assert that there are truly good and incredibly bright people at Dartmouth College who have created a welcoming environment in which I look forward to spending my next four years.

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