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Love (and Kid) Your College

Dartmouth students Kate Taylor and Gardner Davis, who co-write a popular advice column, “Moderately Good Advice” in The Dartmouth student newspaper, sit in Baker Library at the college earlier this week. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

Dartmouth students Kate Taylor and Gardner Davis, who co-write a popular advice column, “Moderately Good Advice” in The Dartmouth student newspaper, sit in Baker Library at the college earlier this week. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

Life as a Dartmouth College student is fraught with many social challenges for which there are few easy answers.

How should one spend a six-week break between fall and winter terms? Should one curry favor with fraternity and sorority members before the rush period? And, is it taboo to catch up on HBO’s sexy, violent series Game of Thrones while working out at the campus fitness center?

Dartmouth students wanting guidance on such matters needn’t look further than the Friday edition of The Dartmouth student newspaper, in which seniors Gardner Davis and Kate Taylor address the particular problems of Dartmouth students in their “Moderately Good Advice with Gardner and Kate” column.

True to the duo’s irreverent style, Gardner told a Game of Thrones devotee that keeping current with the series “is integral to your social life.” He shared his own experience: “I don’t have the time to spend two entire days catching up during senior spring,” he wrote.

Not so fast, Kate objected in the column. “While I agree it’s fine to watch incestuous soft-core porn at the gym, I have major issues with your statement that you ‘don’t have time’ to catch up on Game of Thrones.” (Gardner is in the enviable position of having no classes during his last term at Dartmouth.) Kate protested that he’d been spending his days hiking and exploring the Upper Valley. “You sound like a 75-year-old retiree in Hanover,” she retorted.

By addressing concerns voiced by “Under-involved Uma ‘16” and “Self-conscious Sidney ‘15” about how to ask a date to semi-formal, how to appear competitive in the revered Dartmouth drinking game of “pong,” and whether to feel “weirded out” for attending a production of The Vagina Monologues, Gardner and Kate have shown deep knowledge of their alma mater’s traditions, while skewering campus customs many hold dear.

“We’re both people who really love Dartmouth, but we also like making fun of Dartmouth,” said Kate, of Durham, N.C., while sipping a Diet Coke at Canoe Club in Hanover.

“I think looking for the little things that make Dartmouth, Dartmouth, and pointing them out as being hilarious is one thing that we really try to do,” said Gardner, who is from Jacksonville, Fla. “Because freshmen are so excited to use Dartmouth-specific language, let’s make fun of them for doing that.”

Doling out “Moderately Good Advice” has endeared Gardner and Kate to a diverse group of the Dartmouth community, from the religion department (Kate said they’re fans) to first-year students looking for insight on campus life, to alumni nostalgic for their Dartmouth years.

It was Gardner and Kate’s “knack for taking everyday Dartmouth first-world problems and addressing them with detailed, humorous and sarcastic answers,” that won over 2008 Dartmouth grad Simon Trabelsi, not to mention their handy guide for improving one’s pong game.

“Whenever I end up in a frat basement during one of my visits, I’m expected to have all kinds of savvy veteran moves that simply aren’t there,” Trabelsi admitted in an email. “Between claiming to be ‘rusty’ and using Kate and Gardner’s advice, I think only 80 percent of people know how truly awful I am.”

Readers are less likely to read about more serious issues at Dartmouth, such as sexual assault or the protests at a prospective student event last month. “We generally think that there are other places you can go for really serious things that are going on at Dartmouth,” Garnder said. “We try to keep it lighter.”

Though “Moderately Good Advice” has inextricably linked the columnists as “gardnerandkate,” they cut an unusual pair when they began writing the column last fall.

Beyond their differences in height — Gardner at 6 foot 3, Kate at 5 foot 2 — they hadn’t known each other well before their senior year, save for a term they spent on separate study abroad programs in the U.K. Where Gardner has dabbled as a humorist through his contributions to the now-defunct Dunyun, a Dartmouth-centric spoof of campus life, and opted for no classes during his “senior spring,” Kate has been toiling away at her senior thesis and has educated peers about sexual health. She said she even lent her expertise on relationships to a column in Dartbeat, The D’s blog.

“It was a sex column,” Gardner chided his cohort.

“It was not a sex column!” Kate insisted. “There was nothing about my own life.”

Were it not for Priya Krishna, the student body may have had to go without Gardner’s and Kate’s moderately sage counsel. Both expressed interest in writing columns for the Dartmouth, and “I knew their writing styles and senses of humor were a perfect fit for that kind of format,” wrote Krishna, a former editor at the paper.

Gardner and Kate soon bonded over Sunday afternoon meetings at the King Arthur Flour cafe in Dartmouth’s Baker Library. “When you have to spend four hours every Sunday afternoon together, trying to figure this out, you get close pretty quickly,” Gardner said. At this point in their friendship, Gardner and Kate finish each other’s sentences, and they’re regularly asked whether they’re dating (they’re not).

“One of the most exciting things for me to see,” Krishna wrote, “is how, as the column has progressed, their ‘columnist chemistry’ has really increased. They play off of each other’s words and ideas so well, and that is really cool to see now looking from where they started.”

With graduation nearing, the era of “Moderately Good Advice” at Dartmouth is coming to a close. Kate is set to head to New York for an internship at Forbes Magazine. Gardner has secured a job in Connecticut, of which he revealed little, except that “it doesn’t involve writing.”

“I feel like I’ve had a lot of senior year nostalgia writing this column,” Kate said. Besides coming up with witty barbs about when it’s appropriate to wear shorts in Hanover and whether it’s appropriate to neck in public (uncool, they wrote, and absolutely not in the library), writing “Moderately Good Advice” has allowed Gardner and Kate to reflect on the milestones of their Dartmouth experience, and how far they’ve come since arriving in Hanover in the fall of 2009.

For their final column, “maybe we’ll ask questions from our freshman year selves,” Gardner said. “That’d be so nostalgic.”

Katie Beth Ryan can be reached at kbryan@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.