Outside the Classroom
Investing in Student Life
Launched in February of 1999, the Student Life Initiative (SLI) aimed to improve the entirety of student life, and in that endeavor we succeeded, although there always is more to do because student interests and needs are not static. The Board of Trustees and I challenged the Dartmouth community to enter into a conversation about how social and residential life at Dartmouth could best complement the academic experience.
Frankly, we stumbled coming out of the box: Our progress was initially hampered by a misperception—which our planning and communications should have anticipated—that we were primarily focused on the Greek system. We certainly wanted to bring the Coed, Fraternity, and Sorority (CFS) organizations into the totality of the student experience, but we also wanted to enhance a sense of community and continuity more broadly, to address some gender inequities, to increase social options and social space, to provide student support where it was needed most, to increase and improve residential buildings, and to expand and update athletic facilities. Indeed, at the beginning of my term as president, the Student Assembly presented me with a notebook full of suggestions and requests collected from students, many of them calling for more opportunities and resources for social and cultural expression beyond the Greek system. In short, we committed to making a significant investment in student spaces and programs to improve the quality of the experience for today’s students.
The Greek system was indeed a significant area of concern and attention, and many of the system’s strongest supporters also perceived a pressing need for fundamental improvements. I have worked closely with many CFS leaders over the years, and what I asked of them in 1999 was to live up to their own values, to work hard to become part of the broader community rather than exist apart from it. I told them that if they did this work, I would support them. They have followed through, and so have I.
The CFS organizations have moved from “Minimum Standards” and adopted more rigorous and meaningful “Standards of Excellence.” Students are now eligible to rush in the fall of their sophomore year, and more students than ever before are members. In fact, there are now more women in sororities than men in fraternities, and we plan to renovate two houses on East Wheelock Street for use by sororities. The College sponsored a facilities audit and makes low-interest loans available for house improvements. We value having now the most collaborative and collegial relationship with the organizations that we have seen in decades.
Today, we can point with pride to the number and variety of student organizations (nearly 300 across campus) providing opportunities for recreation, friendship, initiative, and engagement; to a wide array of cultural options including but certainly not limited to the resources of the Hood Museum of Art and the Hopkins Center for the Arts (where we now make tickets available at deeply reduced student prices); to an Office of Pluralism and Leadership (OPAL) that not only supports diversity at Dartmouth but also fosters connection and community; and to opportunities for developing leadership skills (including OPAL’s Leadership Discovery Program, the Undergraduate Advisor Program, the thriving Dartmouth Outing Club, Greek letter organizations, Tucker Foundation service projects, and the Rocky Leadership Fellows). We can also point to nine new residence halls; plans for the Class of 1953 Commons, which would expand dining, social, and cultural options; late-night hours at Collis Center; and free student admission at all athletic events. Almost every athletic facility has been either replaced or extensively renovated during the past decade, and we have provided more budgetary and facility support for club sports.
Last year, we hired a new dean of the College, Tom Crady, who is building on the good work of his predecessors and is implementing improvements to our disciplinary system and alcohol policies. We should also recognize, with thanks, our very hardworking, committed, and effective staff. They also serve as teachers, advisors, and mentors to students and provide much of the continuity and personal attention characteristic of Dartmouth at its best.