"The Lessons You Learn, The Experiences You Have, are Really Going to be Foundational:" Dartmouth College from an Afro-AAm Presidential Perspective

Digital Exhibit by Jelinda Metelus, Dartmouth College Class of 2022

This exhibit is based on the oral testimony of Dr. Ronald Copeland, Dartmouth Class of 1973. Dr. Copeland came to campus during one of the most turbulent times in Dartmouth's, and the United States', history. With the Vietnam War still in full effect, the recent assassination Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement gaining steam, times were tense. Nevertheless, Dr. Copeland had to discover how to navigate college life in a racialized world as a Black male on an only recently integrated Hanover, New Hampshire campus. 

I chose to conduct Dr. Copeland’s interview through the scope of this social and political scene, choosing to focus on how he dealt with the ups and downs of being a Black student on Dartmouth’s campus. I also wanted to touch on his contributions to Dartmouth to see how he used his experiences with belonging and difference to propel his passion for activism into a career. 

I found myself deeply intrigued by Dr. Copeland’s ability to see the good in Dartmouth’s campus and his ability to take what he learned and use it to become an accomplished alum and inspiring mentor.

Dr. Copeland used not only his classroom experiences as a biology major and psychology minor to grow academically, but he also used his experiences on the ground, as President of the Afro-American Society, to learn to unite and lead Black people. After lifting up Black people on campus, he then went on to teach those of other backgrounds how to curve their biases in the medical space.

My hope is that visitors of this exhibit learn a bit more about how isolating being a Black person on Dartmouth's campus was and can still be. At the same time, I hope viewers find inspiration in the contributions and family that Black alumni like Dr. Copeland made even though they did no feel fully welcome. Even though Black people were not a monolith on campus, when the going got tough, they banded together, even through their differences, to create change for themselves.