January 20, 2006

Affinity and Self-Segregation

Today, the D's editorial board pens a letter addressing the painfully obvious fact that Dartmouth students tend to self-segregate. The problem they see is that groups organized around an affinity—race, common interest, sports, major, whatever—are too strong.
[M]any groups stand as virtually isolated entities pursuing their own agendas outside the whole. Perhaps one way this trend could shift is if selective organizations simply advertised their existence and character to freshmen instead of actively recruiting during the first few weeks. [...] A reduced emphasis on early recruitment would provide freshmen with an opportunity to discover Dartmouth in their own way
However, is this really necessary? The D recognizes that "[m]any students cite their participation in such organizations as one of the highlights of their Dartmouth experience." Why not find a way to work with the current arrangement and still make it possible for Dartmouth's diversity to be an active one instead of a creation mostly of the college mailings? Why do we need to in essence make these affinity groups weaker to make Dartmouth more diverse? I think we can best make Dartmouth more truly diverse—and interesting—by strengthening them.

How would this work? Simply this: If a group is stronger on a campus our size, its direction will tend to be outward, rather than inward. At a state school, this probably isn't true, but I think stronger groups tend to be more active groups, and more active groups means more interaction between and among groups. If you have both an acid and a base, and if you increase the strength of both, you will get more product, while if you dilute both, both will remain for the most part inactive. Inactivity, apathy, and indifference are the greatest dangers toward forming a dull, self-segregating, and static campus. Activity, energy, and the cultivation of difference in interesting ways—that's what we should aim for.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:47 PM

    That is kind of a weird suggestion. Students self-segregate too much, so the official groups need to water down their recruiting...

    That aspect of the op-ed seems a bit shallow. I think their complaints are really with a tiny subset of the student organizations: sports teams, greek houses, and racial affinity groups (and maybe a handful of others that I'm leaving out). I don't think that a cappella groups discourage their members from having non-a cappella friends, but I may be mistaken.

    The answer to that, I think, is more in individual decisionmaking than social engineering. People are more comfortable with similar people, and it often takes a conscious choice to step out of one's comfort zone.

    And to the extent that it is in social engineering, the answer is probably to do more to encourage heterogeneous groups of students to socialize than to weaken the associations. DOC trips, random freshman roommate assignments, and things along those lines tend to help. Maybe the college should explore more things along those lines.