Remaking Life

Dear Dartmouth,

On March 17, we all received an email from the Provost announcing that Spring Term classes would be conducted remotely for the full term. Three months later, this term – so unanticipated and singular in nature – has come to a close. Wherever you are, it is likely that by now your papers and projects have been submitted, your tests have been taken, and your grades are in the books.

You may find yourself in a liminal space now – transitioning yet again. It is natural, in moments of change, to alternate between perspectives of looking back and looking ahead. In looking back, we try to make sense of what has happened. In looking ahead, we scan the horizon for new opportunities to apply what we’ve learned about ourselves and the world around us, so that we can begin to author the next chapter of our story.

However, this transition between terms might feel different than many others. The past three months have been marked by profound loss on many levels: individually, institutionally, nationally, and globally. And wherever you are, it is likely that your life has been altered by loss in some way. For some of you, perhaps, in many ways. With loss comes grieving.

The writer Anne Roiphe says,
“There are two parts to grief. The first is loss. The second is remaking life.”

Grief, too, is a liminal space. We envision the future a particular way, and when we experience loss, it demands a re-envisioning of what life will look like in the absence of what is no longer there. We look back at what was and what we thought would be. We look ahead and consider what might be. We try to make sense and meaning of what can often feel quite senseless and meaningless. And ultimately, we begin a process of remaking life.

Remaking life can be a difficult concept to embrace, particularly given that we’re still in the midst of so much turmoil, ongoing loss, and, well, grieving. But that’s how grief works. It is neither linear nor sequential. Even as we endure loss and respond with different forms of action, we are contributing to the process of remaking the world as we know it.

Remaking life is never about going back to what was. Instead, grief is a midwife to whatever life will look like on the other side of this transition. So the choices we make and the actions we take right now have a direct bearing on both what our own lives will look like in the future as well as the lives of others, and the world we share together.

It may be helpful to know that we are not alone in this experience. In fact, the universality of loss and grief can serve as a point of connection. In a 1963 article addressing racial justice and trauma in the United States, James Baldwin wrote, “You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was Dostoevsky and Dickens who taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who ever had been alive.”

As you navigate your own grief, I hope that you can find opportunities for connection. Whoever you are, and wherever you are, there are people who care about you and a support system at Dartmouth that is here for you. Our team at the SWC is part of this caring community. If you would like our support, we’d be honored to come alongside you in facing whatever transitions you may be navigating, and helping you determine how you want to remake life as you move forward into what will be.

As a final thought, these times of deep suffering have the ability to shape us into the person and people we are going to be. For all of us, remaking life is likely to involve both individual and societal dimensions. If there is hope in this moment, it may be found in the idea that real change – both individually and collectively – has perhaps never been more possible. It would be a missed opportunity to not consider how we will remake ourselves, our organizations, and our institutions in a way that will create a world that is better for all.

One of the reflections we incorporated into our monthly theme of Renewal and Growth was taken from a recent ‘episode’ of Some Good News, during which Oprah Winfrey responds to a request to “think about a time in your life that felt like a low point in the moment but actually changed everything for you.” She tells a story about how an early career promotion to local news anchor was undermined by her co-workers:

I get demoted. I am humiliated. I am embarrassed. Instead of firing me, they put me on the local talk show. And the day I did my first talk show, I felt like I had come home to myself.”

One of the things that strikes me most about Oprah’s response is how terrible it must have been for her to endure the experience she describes. In that moment, she must have thought about how all of the work she had invested in creating this opportunity for herself may have been for nothing. And now, recounting this story, she instead perceives this experience as the pivotal moment that created the possibility for her to become the person she is today.

We cannot yet see how the story we are living in this present moment will end. What we can do is look for the experiences that create a feeling of “coming home to ourselves.” And we can author our stories as we move forward, relying on our strengths to adapt to circumstances that may be beyond our control. To return to James Baldwin one more time, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

As we face these challenges and transitions, we are, in fact, remaking life as we know it for ourselves and our world.

Wellbeing in Times of Crisis

George Floyd mural

Dear Dartmouth,

For the past eight years, I have worked in the field of college student health and wellness promotion. During that time, wellness and wellbeing have become a significant part of my professional identity. I now work in the Dartmouth SWC, where our mission is empowering our community to thrive. Over my time in this field, these themes have come to permeate everything I do. Even my email signature has evolved to the phrase: “Take care and be well.” This past week, however, has me wondering…

I know you’re likely aware of the circumstances that make up our current context, so I’ll keep this brief. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that is causing immense destruction to the economy and health of our communities and our national climate is one of profound division, mistrust, opposition and hatred. While a select few continue to prosper, a vast number of people are suffering as the long-standing, insidious influence of institutionalized racism has become more prominent and visible in the impact of these circumstances on BIPOC members of our community.

Rates of infection from coronavirus have disproportionately impacted historically disadvantaged groups. If Native American Tribal Nations were to be counted as equivalent to US states, the five territories with the highest rates of coronavirus infection per capita would all be tribal nations, with New York dropping from 1st to 6th. And while Black Americans represent only about 13% of the population in states that have reported racial and ethnic demographic information, they account for about 34% of total Covid-19 deaths in those states.

On top of the numerous factors that have created these disparities in the impact of the pandemic, acts of overt aggression toward members of different racial and ethnic groups have been steadily on the rise. 32 percent of Americans have witnessed acts of blame toward people of Asian descent for the coronavirus epidemic. And we are collectively bearing witness to racist acts of violence toward Black Americans that have resulted in the tragic loss of lives.

Breonna Taylor.

Ahmaud Arbery.

George Floyd.

David McAtee.

As a nation, we are now literally and figuratively aflame. And we undoubtedly face further struggles ahead.

As a wellness center, the pain and fear of these struggles calls to us, demanding a response. How do we empower our community to thrive in times of such loss, grief, and anger? How can we help you, our student body, “be well” right now?

I think the most honest response I have to offer is this: maybe now is not a time to be well.

People are, quite literally, dying. Under the best of circumstances, the global pandemic would be more than enough for anyone to bear. Instead, it is now only the backdrop for the outrage and heartbreak that are sweeping our nation. The ability to thrive in the face of such suffering is likely a better measure of privilege than it is any marker of wellbeing.

Perhaps we need a better question. Instead of wondering how to be well at this time, we can instead ask how we can help create a world where wellbeing becomes a viable reality for everyone. What can we, as a Dartmouth community, do with our collective power and influence, our voice, our creative and critical thinking, and our desire to provide leadership for the world? And how will we demonstrate that we are a caring community – one in which we take care of ourselves and look out for the needs of others – especially those among us whose lives have been most profoundly impacted?

The practices and skills that foster wellbeing can be of value in any context or circumstance. They may even be particularly relevant right now, as we face seemingly insurmountable challenges. In these moments, we can strive to cultivate a perspective grounded in a persistent hope for positive change and a determination to work toward that outcome. We can engage mindfully and connect authentically with others, especially those whose experience differs from our own. And ultimately, we can learn to act in accordance with the intentions that guide our lives. This may involve leaning into deep pain and discomfort, but this too is consistent with the practices of wellbeing and can ultimately yield greater clarity, resiliency, and purpose.

Our monthly theme for June is Renewal and Growth. Prior to all the events of the past weeks, our staff member, Laura Beth (LB) White wrote the following description for this theme: Renewal and Growth is all about reflecting on past and current challenges and observing how what may have felt or feels like a setback or a time of deep suffering actually has the potential to shape and evolve us into the person we are going to be. It is an opportunity to recognize that we have the power to choose what story we want to be part of and what story we want to be telling.

In this time of deep suffering, we encourage you to take time to reflect. It may be helpful to connect with others who can give you space to talk out your concerns, feelings, and experiences in a way that inspires meaningful action. We can seek ways to support the wellbeing of all individuals, particularly those for whom it has been deprived for so long, and we can work together collectively to change our community and our world in positive ways. What matters most right now is that we collectively take a stand, and stand together in solidarity.

To all BIPOC students, we see you and we honor you. Black lives matter. You matter. We commit to continually educating ourselves on ways that we can better support the wellbeing of every student, particularly those who identify as BIPOC in our community. We stand with you and offer our support to the best of our ability.

To students engaging in activism – participating in and even leading change – we see you too. Please take care of yourselves and allow yourself to be cared for as well, even as you advocate for the needs of others. We are here for you as well.

To students who are feeling uncertainty about how to make sense of the challenges, struggles and events of our world, we see you too. If there are ways that we can help you ground yourself in your values in a way that inspires action, we are here.

We are currently compiling lists of resources for students that we will post and share as soon as possible. Our own virtual resources are available for you, and include wellbeing tips, as well as a variety of different meditation and yoga recordings that you can stream. If it would be helpful to talk out your thoughts, feelings and experiences with a non-judgmental trained listener our staff is available for wellness check-ins via phone or Zoom as well. Please reach out if you’d like support!

Take care, and wherever possible, be well.

Welcome to our SWC Blog!

Dear Dartmouth,

Welcome to our blog of reflections on wellbeing from the Student Wellness Center. Every week or two, we’ll be bringing you our thoughts on different topics connected to your wellbeing. Over time, we hope to feature a variety of voices and perspectives, as we know that there is no, one, student experience at Dartmouth. In addition, we hope to be as responsive as possible to the events and issues that intersect with your interests, questions and concerns. Learn more about us on our main website, and follow us on Instagram at @dartmouthswc

If you have questions or topics that are on your mind or in your heart that you’d like us to address, shoot us an email at We’ll respond to you directly and use your ideas for future posts!