Reflecting on the Easter season, I thought it appropriate to spend some time discussing the College’s Christian heritage. Over Easter, I had the pleasure of participating in many celebrations of the Lord’s resurrection on campus. At the House of Aquin, I enjoyed three Masses over Holy Weekend (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil) which were all beautiful and uplifting in their respective ways, and through society. Eleazar Wheelock, I participated in a pretty splendid Easter Egg Hunt that took me through different parts of campus. As this was my first Easter on campus (thanks to COVID), I was very encouraged to see that across the various Christian communities there was a great sense of goodwill and excitement for the holidays. While these celebrations were very rewarding and welcome, they also served as a reminder of how far Dartmouth has taken both religion and the College’s heritage of faith to the edge of campus.
Where this revisionism is perhaps most apparent is in the popular founding myth of the College. Every student is told how Dartmouth College was founded in the 18and century to educate the natives of the fledgling colonies, and perhaps a lesser part of the students know that this man was called Eleazar Wheelock. And while some may want to revel in how this mission was either a proto-progressive goal or a version of colonialism itself, we rarely discuss Wheelock’s reasons for educating the natives.
Like all good men in early America, Eleazar Wheelock was deeply religious. During the 1730s he attended Yale, and there he fell into the First Great Awakening at its height. After graduating, he found success as an itinerant minister in the energetic religious movement; however, like most revivals, the Great Awakening quickly petered out and was punished for its excesses, with many colonial governments cracking down on its former supporters. Due to fervor exhaustion, Wheelock changed focus and began to channel his energy into the instruction of students at his own grammar school. Here he found his prodigy, Samson Occom, who was a Mohegan convert to Christianity, and through Occom’s great success as a minister, Wheelock was encouraged to focus his education on the natives as he saw the great potential of natives as Christian missionaries. Because of their background and relatively affordable price, the natives were ideal missionaries for Wheelock to help spread the word of Christ in native communities. He first founded Moor’s Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut, and later Dartmouth College with this reason – to educate natives as Christian missionaries – as his goal in mind.
And while the Native focus didn’t last long in early College, the Christian background certainly did. William Jewett Tucker – arguably Dartmouth’s greatest president – was a Congregational pastor who believed that strong Christian support was necessary for a modern liberal education. He brought a clear moral and spiritual compass to the College which resulted in its great growth into one of the elite colleges in the country. Legendarily, President Tucker began each day by delivering a sermon to the entire student body – one could only imagine if today President Hanlon would strive to lecture Christian ethics on campus!
Even this great journal has its foundation entangled in the College’s Christian heritage. A large number of The Dartmouth ReviewThe esteemed founders of ‘s first gathered at Aquinas House, the Catholic student center on campus. In particular, Keeney Jones ’82 would later become a Catholic priest after graduating. One of the motivations behind the creation of this journal stems from a backlash against the Tucker Center (named after President Tucker) and the watered down spiritual and religious life it promotes on campus, falsely promoting progressive politics as a form of spiritual existence. Today, the Tucker Center is still around, filling students’ inboxes with unread messages of “Spiritual Resources on Racial Justice and Anti-Racism” and constant reminders of “Mindfulness” (whatever that is). can mean).
Thanks to the efforts of groups like the Tucker Center, the College’s Christian heritage has largely been shut down on the current campus, and I mean that literally. The only explicitly religious building the College has is Rollins Chapel, and it has been closed for two years due to fears over “ventilation”. The College allowed students to take off our masks, but they still did not allow the house of the Lord to open. In places like Aquinas House, the Wheelock Society and The apologyconscious students can still find Christian communities, but outside of these spaces, the modern “religious” experience on campus consists of daily emails announcing yoga and “mindfulness” sessions in some back offices of Robo.
Overall, Dartmouth has a heritage and tradition of Christianity on campus, and while you shouldn’t expect to find much support for it in the offices of Parkhurst or Robinson, I do expect that these communities continue and thrive. This legacy of Christianity might be forgotten by most on campus, but it is certainly not lost. Like all great traditions on this campus, we must preserve it where we can so that students who come after us can enjoy what we have been blessed to inherit and find great comfort in the Word. of the Lord on the Dartmouth campus. .