The Dartmouth Observer

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Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Bad Writing Ahead

The D's 06' Freshman Issue has come out. It contains all the usual articles about housing, the DOC, multiculturalism, as well as a bunch of op-eds by everyone from Janos to Katie Greenwood. By far the best op-ed is Chris Curran's: it is clear, concise, and vigorously-written; I applaud him for criticizing the administration in a spirit of principled dissent. Let me quote you a few sentences:

"Few would challenge that this greatness stems from our departure from the typical notions of what a university should be. We call ourselves a College in part because of a community spirit we enjoy that is not present in our peer institutions."

"Dartmouth's uniqueness is an asset, not a problem waiting to be remedied."

"I apologize for the negative tone of this piece. I love Dartmouth -- at least what's left of it -- and I write with a highly critical pen because it saddens me to see far-removed Trustees dictate change in our lives with little meaningful student input."

Now contrast Mr. Curran's piece with Ms. Greenwood's. Her op-ed opens with the following paragraph:

"So it's the third week of freshman fall and all the kids on your floor are once again going to frat row, and you're tagging along because you like to get your dance on or you want to roll with the nightlife or maybe you just really like warm cheap beer with a mysterious bouquet of bodily fluids, and you're trying to forget about the paper that's due next week and the fact that you're paying over $10 per waking hour to be at this college. You get to the dance floor, but it's crammed with arrhythmic intoxicated government majors, so you go to the pong table, but seeing the ball roll into a puddle of beer and dog hair and Lord knows what else sets off some alarm bells from Bio 101, so you finally decide to leave and maybe try the next house down and as you pass some random guy on the sidewalk he suddenly pukes all over your shirt and then staggers back and laughs and you're standing there thinking, Um, ew."

This is a hideous piece of writing: my reaction to it is summed up in its last two words. An op-ed is not the place for stream-of-consciousness prose, and bad stream-of-consciousness prose at that. To make matters worse, she drags her readers through four paragraphs of similarly turgid stuff before finally arriving at her main point: that the Dartmyth isn't real. Erm, isn't that why the suffix "-myth" is there? In any case, this is the first time I've heard the term "Dartmyth" mentioned - this is probably my fault. Her piece concludes with the rather banal point that we should change the Dartmyth in order to change Dartmouth. My main problem with her piece is this: just what is wrong about being "blond and Anglo and fifth-generation legacy and athletic and confident and rigidly heterosexual and drive a Grand Cherokee and pound 20 beers a night?" She explicitly accuses such types of taking Dartmouth's resources for granted, and insinuates throughout that they somehow make minorities feel less welcome. Here we go again: stereotyping and then bashing the white male. Speaking as an international student, I can only say that her insinuation was untrue for me. Furthermore, her exhortation to the 06s, "Find your base, grow strong -- and make new homes here, for yourself and others," seems hypocritical, or at least deliberately forgetful. The "homes" she mentions include the Latino and Caribbean House, Main Street magazine, the Dartmouth Rainbow Alliance, and the Education Department. What about the Greek system?

Alli Giordano's piece is scarcely any better. Perhaps it's me being punctilicious - perhaps it's T.S. Eliot - but op-eds really aren't the place for extended personal anecdotes of any kind, least of all poorly-written personal anecdotes. The result is something straight out of high school, or a college admissions essay. Like Ms. Greenwood's essay, hers concludes with a cliche: "The surprising part is that you can pick the parts of this institution that you value, the parts that you dwell on, and the parts that you take away." Again, perhaps it's just the junior (arrgh - I'm a junior!!) in me waxing cynical about such whole-hearted efforts. I would be interested to know what freshmen have to say about such efforts. Do they lead to what Robert Frost called a "clarification of life," or do they simply recycle the brochures and administrative banalities?

See you all soon.