Hi there! My name is Nai-Lah Dixon. I am a ‘21 here at Dartmouth, and I'm a low-income, first-generation, student of color.
Firstly, I would like to congratulate you on being admitted to Dartmouth, as well as any other schools you may have been accepted to. We are more than halfway through April, and you will most likely need to make a decision by May 1st. Now, you might be thinking Dartmouth is the one. Maybe you’re leaning toward Dartmouth for financial reasons, legacy status, or the quaint atmosphere of Hanover. Whatever reason it may be, let me extend some advice before you set your heart on old Darty. Before coming to Dartmouth, I was able to meet individuals here who enlightened me by sharing the pros and cons of attending. Not everyone gets this opportunity, so, I wanted to provide this same insight and show you how I decided to come to this school.
I'll start by saying that I hated Dartmouth before I came here. I had a terrible experience at Dimensions, and I truly did not feel like I’d ever belong here. This jaded view of Dartmouth has definitely informed how I tell others about what Dartmouth is like. All this being said, I am not interested in dissuading you from coming to Dear Old Dartmouth. I simply wish to go through my decision process with you in the hopes that this will be helpful to those of you making hard choices this spring.
This time last year, I was admitted to ten schools and waitlisted at one. The one school I was waitlisted for was my top choice, Brown University. When I received all my decision letters, these were my main concerns: financial aid, the Black community, and the alumni network. To get a sense of the climate at each school, I did a lot of research and talked with current students about their experiences. In the end, it took me until May 1st at 10pm to make my final decision.
I had narrowed my choices down to three great schools–Dartmouth, Smith College, and Emory. To help speed up my decision, I made a list of each school’s pros and cons to determine which school’s cons were the most tolerable for me. To be completely honest, up until then, I was going to choose Smith College. Smith seemed like the perfect choice. I would be surrounded by amazing, determined women (and who wouldn’t want that?) Smith is also located near a major city that I can escape to at any time. Dartmouth has the community of Hanover surrounding it, which is not an extensive one by any means. So, I was leaning toward Smith.
But, I’m obviously not a Smith student today. So, let’s talk about why I ended up choosing Dartmouth.
In addition to my bad experience at Dimensions, there were a few other aspects of Dartmouth that were unnerving at best and disturbing at worst for me as a prospective student. Looking in from the outside, these cons stuck out to me the most:
1. Again, Dartmouth does not have the strongest affinity groups and drama is rampant within them. Within the Black community itself, there is a large assortment of Black organizations (13 total). One can feel like they need to choose one to identify with, as the community has often been divided across organization lines. For example, I am African-American and Caribbean, but, thus far, most of my association with Black orgs has been with the Afro-American society. I don't have a deep connection to my Caribbean heritage, so I don't feel comfortable being involved with Dartmouth's Caribbean organization.
2. Simply put, departments at Dartmouth suck. I am in the Government department (I’m a Sociology and Government double major with a minor in African/African-American Studies). This department is very white male dominated. The kids in here are privileged, snobby, and wealthy, creating an environment that causes anyone like myself (POC, low/middle class) to feel uncomfortable and unwelcome. However, I am not deterred. While dealing with difficult people at this school can be a drain, for me, it is totally worth it. Ultimately, I will be equipped with the tools and knowledge I need to combat injustice in order to to help the communities I want to serve (Black and other racial minority communities, as well as the LGBTQIA+ community).
3. The food here sucks. This is self explanatory. You may have tasted it during Dimensions and know what I'm talking about. Moreover, there are so little food options on campus that even the good food begins to taste bad. I’ve lost six pounds in the last two weeks alone. It’s tough.
4. The D-plan can suck when your close friends are not on during the same term as you. Plus, you only have 10 weeks to complete 3 courses. There is essentially no shopping period and you cannot drop the ball like others can on a semester system. The quarter system is no joke.
5. There are going to be some professors that are extremely unhelpful. They may not understand that you are at a different place in comparison to your other (white and privileged) peers. Also, there will be some professors who will provoke you, but you must remain calm and use your intelligence to fight them back. I have heard many stories about professors trying to break students. But, upperclassmen can always recommend the classes and professors that will make your Dartmouth experience worthwhile.
Despite all these cons, my heart ultimately chose Dartmouth, and here’s why:
1. Dartmouth has an amazing alumni network! Anything that you are interested in, you can probably find an alumni in that field. Furthermore, during our breaks you can decide to connect with an alumni and shadow them. Building your network like this is extremely valuable. You never know how helpful they’ll be later in your career.
2. Dartmouth is known to give impeccable financial aid (of course, it depends on an individual’s circumstance).
3. The Black community here is healing. In my time here, I’ve seen that people are really trying to mend the small Black community that does exist at Dartmouth. So far, I have met some amazing Black Dartmouth students, and while I don’t always have the time to connect with everyone on a personal level, for the most part, people are friendly and always willing to lend a helping hand. We are all going through the same struggle of navigating an institution that doesn’t always appreciate our blackness. Dartmouth is a challenging place where you might face microaggressions or blatant disrespect, and the administration is not entirely willing to assist you. But, we do have each other to turn to.
4. If you want to attend a small school, then Dartmouth is the place to be. If I were to stand in the middle of the Green, it would take about 5-10 minutes in any direction to reach the farthest outskirts of campus. This can come in handy when I only have two minutes to make it to class and I have to run.
5. International (and domestic) study abroads for a term (and simply the D plan) have given me the opportunity to have more fun while in college. I am studying in Paris this summer to fulfill my African/African-American Studies minor, and I’m super excited. During my junior year, I aspire to go to Spelman for a domestic study program. The rumors are true, there is always a place you can go! Get to applying.
6. Lastly, campus events are great career networking opportunities. Also, panels, movies, performances, etc. can be really fun! It is always worth your time to go see something that may open your eyes to new ideas or perspectives.
Truthfully, it will feel like this place is trying to break you at times. Sometimes it will. When it comes down to these hard times, take a step back and allow yourself time to recover. Remember, you can take a medical leave if you need it. Dartmouth (just like the rest of the world) is going to throw a lot of punches at you, learning how to block and get back up is vital. Dartmouth is a shitty, beautiful place. So far, I have met incredible people who I hope will be in my life long after these four years. There have been challenges thrown at me left and right during my time here, but I get back up everytime. The professors that I have connected with are an incredible support in times of need. I’ve loved my experience at Dartmouth thus far, but I have also had to conquer many challenges to make it through my first year. But, that’s enough about me. Now, the decision to take Dartmouth on is yours. If you choose Dartmouth, be ready to face adversity, but remember there are others, like myself, who will face it with you. Welcome 22s!