Coming home (or not) to Dartmouth

~Jillian Mayer

INCOMINGSTUDENTIAMSOEXCITEDTOMEETYOU!! There are so many things I can’t wait to do and be and create with you! I’d like to tell you a bit about my Dartmouth experience so that we might have a richer conversation than the usual a/s/l-type introduction in the fall. Perhaps I’ll describe myself. I’m a member of the class of 2014 who identifies as chronically hungry and under-caffeinated. I’m an Environmental Studies and Spanish double major, neither of which I’m too keen on anymore (it’s sometimes ok to choose the wrong major! and change it a ton of times! and not know what you want to do with it! sometimes!). I am also a white, temporarily able-bodied, straight passing, middle class, Jewish, cisgendered, feminine-presenting queer wombyn, and a natural-born US citizen with a passport. I come from a two-parent family, have a socially condoned body size, and speak English as my first language the way that mainstream white American society deems “standard.” As I write this from my off-term in Oregon, I sit on lands stolen from the Multnomah, Klamath, Clackamas, Chinook, Tualatin, Kalapya, Mololla, and other Native American nations, tribes, and clans. While I believe we are all greater than the sum of our parts – I am not only these identities, just as you are not comprised entirely/solely of the identities you hold – recognizing, naming, and working to deconstruct them is important because they inform everything I experience. Which matters. In introducing myself this way, I hope we are more qualified to critique this blog, to recognize the limitations of my experience, and to come to the proverbial (or literal Foco) table with a better understanding of each other. Incoming students: I cannot welcome you “home” to Dartmouth.

A friend asked me to write about my Dartmouth experience to give incoming students insight into the next phase of their lives. I don’t even know what that means. I am unequipped to offer anything other than my friendship (which I present with enthusiasm, Late Night Collis mozzarella sticks if you want ‘em, and a high five). I’ve spent the last two terms away from campus, but will return in the fall to greet my brother, a ’17, and you. I’ve felt “home” more often while away from campus these past few months than I ever have in Hanover. Have you heard the popular idiom “Hogwarts + Disney = Dartmouth”? I find this equation unnervingly accurate, given that both of those addends seem to be the funnest but actively perpetuate and normalize white supremacy, sexism, classism, misogyny, heterosexism, trans*phobia, ableism, capitalism, nationalism, and lots of other things that kill everyone eventually. Like a hunter retracing her own bloody footprints, I return to Dartmouth reluctantly.

I don’t mean to scare you, incoming student. Honestly, I don’t. I’ve had some great times at Dartmouth, and bet you will too. I’ve carved out a hard-won home for myself within a few people and places that I love. I climb favorite mountain peaks to remind myself that I am both strong and small. I smile at and print out and tape on my wall the poems my friends email me at 3 a.m. from across the library. The winter of 2011 found me half naked jumping into a frozen lake. I’ve studied abroad twice.

I have also been invited to one “Chinese”- and three “Mexican”-themed parties whose white hosts could pass immigration legislation in a decade. I can count on one hand the number of female-bodied people and/or women I love who have not been sexually assaulted. The extreme backlash (and, perhaps more disturbing, the apathy of much of the student body and alumni networks to that violent backlash) following the Dimensions weekend #RealTalk protests by students last spring highlights the structures at play on our campus. As scholar-activist Andrea Smith notes, an ableist, capitalist, racist “patriarchal system based on violence operates by appearing ‘normal’ and attacking alternative systems that might challenge its legitimacy.”[i] Our reaction totally fits.

My critiques of Dartmouth are really critiques of the system in which Dartmouth is embedded and I am complicit. It is an enormous privilege having entire years of my life set aside for reading the brilliant theory of why it is so problematic that I have the years to read the brilliant theory. And most of my identities make my joys and struggles more visible than those of my peers. It is what I choose to do with my myriad privileges, though, that makes me more fully human. Or something. Wrestling with paradoxes, not expecting others to explain their truths (do your research!), and listening to – not merely hearing – each other allows us to begin to reclaim the humanity that the world that made Dartmouth would prefer us lose. Some of you might step onto campus already intimately familiar with the structures I mention. Welcome. Others of you will immediately and consistently like your new Dartmouth “home.” Welcome. If you do end up enjoying most or all of your time there, I am genuinely really happy for you. That isn’t sarcasm. But please, for the love of everything you have ever found holy, ask yourself why you are enjoying yourself so much. My challenges are not fighting words; they are loving ones. Let’s make everyone feel the way you do. I will be beside you as we work towards (dismantling)creating this institution. That has been and will continue to be where I find my “home” at Dartmouth.

I’ll see you soon on Abenaki land.

Peace easy,

Jillian ‘14

[i] Smith, Andrea. Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide. Cambridge, MA: South End, 2005.


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