THE BLOG
08/16/2013 03:14 pm ET Updated Oct 16, 2013

Media's Misrepresentation of Dartmouth

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I have not always been the most adamant defender of my alma mater. Nestled in the idyllic hills of Hanover, New Hampshire, picturesque Dartmouth College is indeed susceptible to criticism. The subject of the biggest hazing scandal in recent memory, the college has developed a reputation for staunch social conservatism bordering on bigotry. It boasts an infamously weak sexual assault policy, a notoriously pernicious Greek system and a singularly homophobic, sexist and racist atmosphere.

For the past year and a half, Dartmouth has been denounced as a bastion of anti-intellectualism and chauvinism in a host of national news outlets: Rolling Stone reported on fraternity pledges forced to swim in kiddie pools of vomit, and The Huffington Post's Ezra Tzfadya described his Dartmouth days a festival of "Wild intoxication. Vomiting. Urinating in troughs." The latest in the school's long line of highly publicized offenses is the widely condemned "Bloods and Crips" party recently co-hosted by the Alpha Delta fraternity and the Delta Delta Delta sorority. According to Gawker, the ill-conceived event constitutes further evidence that Dartmouth, "the lily-white investment banking camp of the Ivy League, prides itself on its purposefully insular and routinely violent fraternities."

Egregious misuse of the word "purposeful" aside, Gawker's assessment of the situation isn't fair, and it bespeaks a broader and more injurious problem: the woeful misrepresentation of Dartmouth in the media. A quick glance at any of my op eds for The Dartmouth will reveal that I am on board with even the harshest criticism of the Greek system. Like Gawker, I regard Alpha Delta's Bloods and Crips party as an exercise in the worst kind of cultural insensitivity, and like Rolling Stone, I categorically condemn degrading and dehumanizing hazing. I don't object to the high volume of criticism that the national media has levied against my school: I object only the one-dimensional and ultimately superficial picture that this criticism has succeeding in painting. It isn't fair to conflate Dartmouth as a whole with its admittedly toxic Greek system; it isn't even fair to conflate the Greek system with its most toxic components.

According to the dime-a-dozen sensationalist articles denouncing the college, all we ever do at Dartmouth is bathe in vomit and spout racial epithets. In point of fact, however, a large portion of the student body is committed to reforming the Greek system and promoting social justice on campus. This progressive community isn't always effective, and it's very rarely unified, but it certainly isn't irrelevant.

Why isn't there more coverage of the Women's and Men's Forums, which host regular discussions of masculinity, femininity and other gender issues on campus? Of Gender Sexuality XYZ, Dartmouth's gay/straight alliance, in whose well-stocked LGBTQ resource room I have taken many a comfortable nap? Of the Vagina Monologues that are annually performed and directed by Dartmouth students? Of the women and gender studies students who authored a petition to improve life for women on the Dartmouth campus?

And if you're not compelled by these more middle-of-the-road initiatives, then perhaps Dartmouth's more radical activists can cater your revolutionary sensibilities. Real Talk Dartmouth, an offshoot of Occupy Dartmouth, sparked conversation and controversy when they protested at a welcome event for newly admitted students. What are they, Gawker? Chopped liver?

To describe Dartmouth's diverse community as "lily-white" is to play into the very power structures that we're all lambasting in the first place. Such a characterization trivializes our attempts to improve our school -- to say nothing of denying the very existence of a huge part the undergraduate population.

Gawker's callous piece represents just one more instance of marginalization: It ignores unglamorous grassroots activism and fixates, instead, on flashy displays of alpha-masculine posturing. Such representations are at least as disempowering as the Greek system, which deigns to acknowledge the existence of feminist organizations on campus.

That the mainstream media showers Alpha Delta with attention while ignoring the many heroic acts of resistance that occur on our campus each day is indicative of skewed priorities -- priorities that I'd venture to say are responsible for many of Dartmouth's flaws to begin with.