Chitra Narasimhan '92
November 7, 2022
Two weeks ago, the Alumni Council gathered for its 225th meeting amidst the beautiful fall foliage of the Upper Valley. As you may know, the Council’s mission is to sustain a fully informed, representative, and engaged exchange of information and sentiment between all 85,000 alumni and the College. What has continuously struck me during my time on Alumni Council is that while so much of what makes Dartmouth special has endured, much has also changed – not only on campus, but in the world we live in. This was the impetus for our theme for this Council meeting: Navigating the Dartmouth Experience in 2022: 10 Years of Progress. Our robust weekend agenda offered insight into the student experience at Dartmouth today and in the future, while reflecting on the incredible progress the institution has made throughout the last decade under President Hanlon’s leadership.
One of the highlights of coming together in person for our meeting was our ability as councilors to engage in activities on campus.
- Day of Caring: Classes and other regularly scheduled activities were suspended on Friday, October 21st to allow all students, faculty, and staff across the institution time for healing and self-care. The Alumni Council was fortunate to be on campus for our first day of meetings, and we were able to participate in the Day of Caring by handing out cider donuts to students and other community members on the Green. This activity was a personal highlight of the weekend for me, and it spoke to the emphasis Dartmouth is placing on prioritizing mental health and wellbeing, which was a concern that carried throughout our meeting.
- Food Shelf: Councilors also participated in a service project over the weekend, gathering food and cash donations (totaling over $1,000) for Dartmouth’s Food Shelf, a food pantry in Dick’s House, that supports students who face food insecurity here on campus.
- Mindfulness Moment: In support of our own wellness and to better understand the resources available to students on campus, we participated in a mindfulness activity and discussion with members of the Mental Health Student Union.
- Diwali on the Green: Shanti, the Hindu Students Association on campus, held a series of events for Diwali: The Festival of Lights. Many of us joined students on the Green to participate in the community lighting of diyas.
Insights from College Leaders
Councilors appreciated the opportunity to hear from several senior leaders from across campus over the weekend. Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith shared an overview of the recent renovations made to Dartmouth Hall, which were made possible by the generosity of women from the Dartmouth community. The building is now home to the Leslie Center for the Humanities and several foreign language programs; classrooms and meeting spaces have been reconfigured and updated with state-of-the-art technology; and new energy efficient systems were installed to convert Dartmouth Hall's heating infrastructure from steam to hot water. Dartmouth Hall will be rededicated on Friday, November 11th and available to watch via livestream during Coeducation Weekend.
Provost David Kotz ‘86 joined councilors over lunch to help us all better understand the role of the Provost as the chief academic and financial officer for the College. Provost Kotz works closely with President Hanlon to improve and maintain the quality of education at Dartmouth; collaborates with all the deans of the campus to support faculty, staff, and students; and sets the annual budget for the College. Provost Kotz also highlighted how faculty recruitment and retention are critical to Dartmouth’s overall academic excellence, and shared that in 2019 Dartmouth was elected to the Association of American Universities, which represents 65 of America’s leading public and private research universities.
Dean Lee Coffin, Vice Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, shared that his focus is on researching the past ten years of admissions, which will inform President-elect Beilock when she begins her tenure next year. He reiterated that Dartmouth has a great story to tell with its unique sense of place. Dean Coffin highlighted the impact of universal need-blind international admissions policy and the special place Dartmouth holds as only the sixth institution in the country to not only implement need-blind admissions, but to also commit to working with admitted students to make it financially viable to attend. To close, Dean Coffin previewed some challenges on the horizon, such as increased applicant numbers, the debate over legacy admissions, and the Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case before the Supreme Court that would impact how race is considered in admissions and how this may impact Dartmouth’s holistic review of applicants.
In response to the deep concern councilors and their constituents expressed about the mental health climate on campus, Dean of the College Scott Brown ‘84a joined us once again for an update on Dartmouth’s significant efforts on this front. Dean Brown reinforced Dartmouth’s emphasis on an institution-wide commitment to care, and he highlighted several ways this has intensified since he last spoke with councilors in the spring – the College has increased its counseling staff; provided free access for the community to Headspace, a mindfulness and meditation app; and partnered with Uwill to provide teletherapy services for students. Additionally, now in the second year of Dartmouth’s partnership with the Jed Foundation, working groups are beginning to act on recommendations from Jed aimed at strengthening access to mental health, well-being, and belonging. Undergraduates also have a new wellness education requirement, beginning with the Class of 2026.
We were joined by Trustees Susie Huang '84, Board Chair Liz Lempres '83 Th'84, and Chris Lord '86 during our Open Forum question and answer session. As chairs of the Presidential Search Committee, Susie and Chris shared insight into the committee’s process and ultimate selection of President-Elect Sian Leah Beilock, who will begin her tenure in the 2023-24 academic year. Additional councilor questions focused on the topic of mental health, and the Trustees emphasized that this is a top priority for the Board.
The Student Experience
Over dinner on Friday evening, we were joined by four student leaders from the Hill Winds Program, which helps current students learn to network and engage with Dartmouth alumni. The conversation focused on what it’s like to be a student at Dartmouth today, and the honesty and vulnerability the students displayed in sharing their stories with us was truly inspiring.
Councilors also received an update on how Dartmouth supports varsity student-athletes, with a focus on mental health, during an athletics panel featuring several members of the athletics team. Mike Harrity, Haldeman Family Director of Athletics and Recreation, led the discussion, which highlighted the ways Athletics is a leader on campus in addressing this critical issue.
Honoring President Philip J. Hanlon ‘77
In an evening titled Dartmouth Then, Now, and Looking Forward, the Alumni Council gathered to honor President Phil Hanlon. Phil and Gail both joined us for their last in-person Council meeting (our spring meeting will be held virtually), and I had the pleasure of moderating a reflective and thoughtful conversation with Phil as he looked back over the past ten years. We all appreciated his candor on the progress Dartmouth has made, as well as his hopes for the new President. The Alumni Council past presidents who served under Phil also put together a touching tribute video as a warm sendoff for his next chapter.
I so appreciate you reading through this update. Please continue to share your thoughts with Alumni Council by emailing your councilor or submitting feedback via the Alumni Liaison Committee’s newly designed online form. Every message received is read, and the feedback and themes drive our agendas for future meetings and updates to our fellow alumni. Please also feel free to contact me directly with your thoughts and suggestions as we look ahead to our planning for the rest of the academic year. I’m so pleased to serve as your Alumni Council president and look forward to continuing my work on behalf of Dartmouth.
Chitra Narasimhan '92
Alumni Council President, 2022-2023