Jim Kenyon: Truth in Labeling
In an address to faculty last Monday, Dartmouth President Phil (I’m Still in My Honeymoon Phase) Hanlon talked about initiatives he hopes can help change the social climate on campus. In other words, how to get students to drink less and be safer.
A worthy goal.
I’m just not sure that theme-based dormitories (think Disney World North) and free late-night snacks in the dining hall will get the job done. It’s going to take more than Saturday night sing-alongs at the Collis Center to persuade students to change their habits.
A good place to start would be with the way the college markets itself. I’ve long thought that a warning label should be attached to Dartmouth’s admissions application: a caveat emptor along the lines of, “Unless your idea of weekend fun is hiking the Appalachian Trail and winter camping, Dartmouth might not be the place for you.”
Don’t get me wrong. Dartmouth is a fine institution. The U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings say so.
But if a social life much beyond attending frat parties is at all a priority, then prospective students should probably cross Dartmouth off their wish list.
Although a Dartmouth degree can be the ticket to a high-paying job on Wall Street, there is a trade-off. By coming to Hanover, students are basically agreeing to be quarantined for the next four years. (Three if they do a year of study abroad.)
The first mistake that new students sometimes make is to think they have moved to a college town. Hanover feels more like a retirement community. (If you don’t believe me, check out the ILEAD lecture series some time.) Hanover’s after-dark options for young adults are extremely limited. There aren’t any clubs, concert venues or pool halls. Not even a bowling alley.
Geography has a lot to do with Hanover’s social limitations. But it’s also a mind-set. The town’s power brokers tend to be buttoned-down types who seem quite content in Hanover remaining an updated version of Mayberry R.F.D. Their idea of pandemonium is college students who cross the street in front of the Hanover Inn without looking both ways.
Some collegians feel at home in Hanover’s state of tranquility. For the same reasons, students are drawn to colleges like Middlebury and Williams.
To each, his or her own.
But I suspect that many 18-year-olds don’t realize what they’re signing up for. Dartmouth could do itself — and prospective students — a favor by being a bit more upfront during the admissions process.
A stellar GPA, top-of-the-chart SAT scores and a diploma from a prestigious prep school doesn’t necessarily mean a kid is a good fit for Dartmouth.
The college’s undergraduate admissions website boasts that 10 years after graduation, Dartmouth students have the highest median salary ($134,000) of any school in the country. The admissions office might better serve Dartmouth wannabes by throwing a few of the college’s more sobering pecularities on its website.
Of the eight Ivy League schools, only Dartmouth and Cornell are situated in the hinterlands. Ithaca, N.Y., is closer in population, however, to Burlington than Hanover. In addition to Cornell, the city is also home to Ithaca College, which has an undergraduate enrollment of 6,200 students.
I’m amused when Big Green alums talk about having met their future spouses while they both attended Dartmouth. Who else other than fellow Darmouth students do they expect to meet in Hanover? They’d have a better chance of running into a moose than a young adult who didn’t bleed green.
Prospective students need to be sure (as sure as any teenager can be) that they aren’t choosing Dartmouth for the wrong reasons. According to the college’s website, 14 percent of this year’s freshmen class, which has 1,117 students, were the sons or daughters of alumni.
Upholding a family tradition isn’t a good reason to pick a college. A conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table that starts out, “Gramps, I know you loved going to Dartmouth, but schussing down the slopes at the Skiway in a raccoon coat really isn’t my style,” could be beneficial.
Hanlon is savvy enough to recognize that college students are going to drink, no matter the school, or its location. They always have; they always will.
Raising the drinking age nationwide to 21 hasn’t been a deterrent. Since they can’t drink legally in public places, some underage students have turned to consuming large amounts of alcohol in short amounts of time. In his address to the faculty, Hanlon noted that “high-risk drinking is a problem that touches an estimated four out of 10 college students, nationwide.”
In Hanover, the cops’ strict enforcement of New Hampshire drinking laws probably does more harm than good. The fear of getting arrested prevents some students from seeking medical attention for themselves or their friends who have overindulged.
The challenge is to get college students to drink more responsibly. But the effort to educate needs to begin before students land in Hanover for freshman orientation. Prospective students should be made well aware that there’s not much to do in Hanover after darkness settles in. (Which at this time of year is earlier than most other places on the planet.)
With its limited offering of late-night social activities, Hanover is a town that can sometimes drive kids to drink more than they should.