At the heart of every thriving institution of higher education (HE) lies a vibrant learning community, shaping students' experiences, fostering meaningful connections, and creating lasting memories. At Dartmouth College, Dean of the College Scott Brown is responsible for overseeing all aspects of student life and ensuring that one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious universities continues to excel.
Scott sat down with Kitty Hadaway, GoodCourse’s Universities Lead, to discuss issues including free speech on college campuses, the challenges of student engagement, and preparing students for life beyond higher education.
I’m the Dean of the College at Dartmouth College. My role oversees several departments related to the campus experience, from housing and student support to community outreach and campus life. If it’s outside of academics and athletics, I’m probably responsible for it!
Dartmouth has about 4,500 undergraduates and graduate programs in business, engineering, and medicine. It offers an intensive and intimate liberal arts experience within a robust global research enterprise.
Dartmouth has a small community where you can probably get to know everyone on campus. On the other end of the spectrum, you have massive institutions which serve more diverse student bodies. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to work in different kinds of institutions, allowing me to develop a portfolio of skills. At any institution, anyone in student affairs is looking for ways to support and educate their students. It’s about believing in student success and providing them with the necessary tools.
We need to meet our students where they are. It’s crucial to understand our students are not a homogenous group: for example, some students suffered from isolation during Covid, whilst others many have lost family members. Many students missed milestones during the pandemic, especially those formative social experiences. There’s been a lot of research into the mental health crisis in America, and that’s only been exacerbated by social media. So to address that, we need to bring people together. One of the positives about Dartmouth is that it’s a face-to-face experience, and there are so many ways people can find a place in the community.
At Dartmouth, there is a strategic and structural commitment to advancing DEI. So there have been some key-impact hires at the very highest level. There is a shared accountability for building structures to support our students and staff. We want to attract the best and brightest students, no matter where they’re from. It’s all about building community: we want to give students the language and the opportunities to talk across differences. That must be integrated into all aspects of the university experience, from the classroom to residential halls. For most students, this will be the most diverse environment they have ever been in. So we need an integrated and comprehensive approach to help them benefit from diversity meaningfully.
Above all, we are committed to freedom of ideas and expression. A central pillar of a Dartmouth education is engaging with ideas you might disagree with. But when that’s not done responsibly, it can impact the community. Sometimes, people can hear things that can be incredibly hurtful — so we make sure there are resources here to help them. We need to prepare the students for the road, not prepare the road for the students. When our students go out into the world and encounter challenges, it’s our responsibility to make sure they are prepared for anything they might face.
Culturally, Dartmouth is a place that prioritizes student agency. There is a deep tradition of student leadership, and there are some outstanding student groups — for example, the Dartmouth Outing Club is the oldest of its kind in the United States. We also have our House communities, which run fifty programs each per term — those can be athletic, academic, or recreational. But you’ll always have students who don’t engage in those activities, so we must devise creative ways to reach out to them.
Because our students are so bright and talented, people often focus on their accomplishments. But I think we don’t focus enough on what makes them happy. I want us to help out students become agents of their happiness. When I directed the career center, I always asked students two questions: firstly, what do you know about yourself that you didn’t know before? And secondly, what knowledge and skills have you developed that you can bring to your next adventure? College is one of the most developmentally intensive times of their lives, and small choices can change the trajectory of their futures.