Albrecht: Suspecting Tradition

Tradition is a loaded word. So much is swept up within and under it, practices and thoughts unquestioned simply because this is how things have always been. Whether it comes to fraternities, Homecoming bonfires or Dimensions welcome shows, Dartmouth is steeped in a culture of maintaining tradition, lest we let them fail.


This is a reality that is neither helpful nor harmful. Dartmouth students realize that traditions must be questioned in order to assure their relevance and safety. While this effort is good, it is not good enough. Traditions hurt people too often at Dartmouth otherwise, we would not hear this conversation every other week. Why does this topic keep coming up? More importantly, how can Dartmouth as a community confront this problem in an effective way?


The answer is that we have to be proactive. Instead of trusting traditions until their harmful nature is unmistakable, we have to question them early and often instead of accepting them as the Dartmouth way of life. Suspecting traditions before accepting them ensures that harm is caught before it happens and that traditions are founded on real, constructive aspects of identity and community.


Hoping that issues will fade away with time simply does not work, nor does addressing problems after they have done their damage. Cultural consciousness is locked in a state of inertia; it does not change unless it is moved by both discussion and action.


Ignorance and silence will not make these issues cease to exist. Leaving them unaddressed encourages more of the same harmful behavior because silence implies acceptance, as does delaying confrontation until the last second. When we wait to challenge campus issues, it only directs our efforts toward saving reputation.


Tradition based on majority consensus is inherently exclusive because it delegitimizes non-participants. If it is a "Dartmouth tradition" to be involved in Greek life, what does that say of the unaffiliated? Are they not true Dartmouth students because they are not involved in a major tradition? Unwavering tradition makes one path the only path and discourages different versions of identity within our pluralistic campus.


The proposed changes to the Dimensions show caused a lot of controversy among students. An apparent majority have decried the change as destroying a loved Dartmouth tradition and claimed that student outrage is universal. While protests against the administration's move are definitely valid, they have to be held against other voices on campus.


Not everybody loved the Dimensions show and it is possible that there are problems with the way it is run. Yet enraged students often cry "tradition" and refuse to listen to dissent with an open mind. Just because an event has happened does not mean that it needs to continue to happen; tradition is not a reason in and of itself to act.


For tradition to be beneficial, there has to be some other redeeming characteristic in its foundation. We attend Trips reunions to catch up with old friends. We build bonfires and snow sculptures to unify the community and express ourselves. We have snowball fights to make memories. None of these things are valuable solely because they have been done in the past. Tradition by itself can never be used to justify what we do. If these kinds of benefits are missing, then the action definitely needs to be reevaluated.


The show is not an immutable aspect of the Dartmouth experience, nor is anything. Yes, it is a tradition and many find it wonderfully inclusive. However, there are also people who find it alienating and are deeply uncomfortable with being lied to for three days.


Clearly, something needs to change. Refusing that change and holding on to a rigid idea of what something should be like discourages both progress and diversity, all in the name of tradition. Though tradition can mean many and sundry things, it can never be an excuse to halt proactive change.


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