Reinstate Dartmouth Men's Lightweight Rowing

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Following the recent announcement that Dartmouth College is eliminating five varsity teams (Men’s and Women’s Swim, Men’s and Women’s Golf, and Men’s Lightweight Rowing), the current and former members of the Lightweight Rowing Team are calling for the reinstatement of Men’s Lightweight Rowing.

The announcement and the FAQ page cite the need to “better balance the makeup of incoming undergraduate classes,” a significant budget deficit, and a “series of factors” as reasons to eliminate the listed varsity teams. However, there is no indication that eliminating the lightweight program will make any substantive changes to these goals. Instead, eliminating the team will negatively impact the college experience for all lightweight rowers, and sets a worrisome precedent for what the college decides is a worthwhile student experience.

We ask for your support through this petition, to support the value of lightweight rowing within the college experience and the opportunities it offers to students.

When considering the academic and extracurricular excellence of the lightweight recruits, the premise that “athletic recruitment at Dartmouth has begun to impact our ability to achieve the right balance between applicants who are accomplished in athletics and applicants who excel in other pursuits” is exposed as a false choice. For the lightweights, it’s not a choice between either athletic accomplishments or “other pursuits”: there is a history, a culture, and an expectation of excellence across the board. 

  • With regard to academic pursuits, the returning members of the 2019-20 team have an average GPA of 3.67, 0.15 points higher than the average GPA for all students at Dartmouth (source
  • Members of the team are involved in a multitude of other activities that enrich student life and the Dartmouth campus: research with professors, tutoring fellow students, volunteering for DOC Trips for incoming freshmen, participating in community service groups, and serving in leadership roles in Greek Life and other clubs.

Furthermore, the prevalence of lightweight walk-ons highlights the value of the lightweight crew team to the entire Dartmouth community, and the far-reaching negative consequences of the team’s elimination. In a time where institutions are looking for ways to maximize diversity, this decision stands in opposition to those ideals. Lightweight rowing’s elimination is more than lost recruiting spots: it’s a lost opportunity for countless other non-recruited students who would have had the same invaluable experiences and tight-knit friendships that have attracted students since the beginning of the sport. Ultimately, the uniquely open nature of the team means that it can not be compartmentalized separately from the broader Dartmouth community. They are co-constitutive. To remove it would be to remove a core component of the culture that defines Dartmouth itself.

Contrary to what the Dartmouth administration may believe, this is not merely a financial or logistic decision, but rather one that affects members of the Dartmouth community and “Dartmouth family” in profound ways. Below are a few testimonials from Dartmouth alumni recounting what this program means to them. 

What Lightweight Rowing has meant to students

[The D150 alumni are] interested in organizing to restore the D150 program and collaborating with the Dartmouth leadership to enrich the experience of all Dartmouth students, as many of us have been through our coaches, teammates, alumni and friends. – Drew Wong ‘12

I entered Dartmouth having no clue where I would fit in. As a black woman, I knew people who looked like me wouldn’t be the majority. I had originally planned on walking onto the women’s track team since that was the sport I competed in throughout high school, but two stress fractures my senior year of high school took away that dream. It was on a whim that I decided to join the Dartmouth Rowing Team and it is by far the best decision I have ever made. From an emotional standpoint, the Dartmouth Lights gave me a family on campus. It gave me support and a sense of belonging at a school that otherwise, especially for minority students, can be incredibly isolating. From a practical standpoint, it taught me grit, determination, sacrifice, time management, leadership, teamwork, communication, motivation, quick decision making, and quite frankly every other skill that has allowed me to be a successful law student, coach, friend, and employee. The Dartmouth Lights are a unique team. A team where anyone, regardless of their background or experience, can join and if they are willing to work harder than they have worked before, they can be successful. To deprive future generations of Dartmouth students the opportunity to be a D150 will, without a doubt, take away someone’s opportunity to discover the best version of themselves. – Kiana Outen ‘18

That river is special. These students will be crucial as dedicated alumni, provided their undergraduate experience is as unique (and tied to the location) as the ones we have had. In short, there is something here worth preserving. We do not have to select for intelligence or physical health in how our undergraduate population is developed--we can have both. – Emerson Curry ‘08

I, like many of you, was a walk on to the team having no prior knowledge of rowing other than seeing an old dusty erg in the gym at my high school. One thing I loved about the sport was the on-campus recruiting that made it possible for any student of any size and background to join one of the three teams. From my narrow view of the Dartmouth rowing bubble it was the most inclusive sport on campus. The only requisite was the willingness to pull for your teammates though as a lightweight a size and intelligent diet helped a lot. – Josh Patch ‘10

As far as I know, I’m the only openly gay Black coxswain who double medaled within our era and quite possibly ever. As a novice walk-on (initially as a D150 rower) I highly doubt someone like me would have even tried out for the sport if Lightweight Rowing didn’t exist, nor would I have had that life changing experience if this team was less inclusive and inviting. – Bryan Alston ‘11

I can say without hesitation or reservation that what I learned about myself and 'life in general' through my rowing experience is at least an equal contributor to my professional achievement when compared with what I learned academically. – Rob Watson ‘84

During orientation week of 13F, an acquaintance I had made on First Year Trips and I were scrolling the Dartmouth Athletics website, looking for a sport that we could somehow walk-on to. As we scrolled, we came across lightweight rowing - something neither of us had heard of growing up in Ohio and Arizona respectively. We decided to email the head coach on a whim asking about walk-on tryouts - at 10:30pm on a Friday, assuming we’d get ignored. Coach Healey, to our surprise, responded exactly 28 minutes later with a message that has always stuck with me: ‘I was a walk-on myself. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can find a home on our team.’ That ethos was real - I and so many others found my home on campus with the D150s. To quote a teammate in my class after hearing this decision: ‘I hope that others that come after us can find something half as good and permanent.’ – Mark Widerschein ‘17

Joining the rowing team as a walk-on was the most important part of the Dartmouth experience for me and so many of my teammates. Let's do everything we can to save our team. – Matt Marcus ‘16

If anything, as lightweights, we were gritty and tough and worked hard at what we did. The skills and the environment created a bond that carries over generations. I’ve never met a D150 alumni that I didn’t immediately think of as a teammate.  – Nick Dawe ‘10

At the bottom of the hill, in our boathouse hidden in the trees, I found a reason to walk back up - to the College on the Hill. Where a girl, deeply proud of her North Dakota roots, found the granite of New Hampshire after all. And it is made part of me ‘til death. – Alexis Vannett ‘20


Next Steps

  1. Sign and share this petition
  2. Email the following people and express your discontent with their decision:
    1. Athletic Director Harry Sheehy:
    2. President Phil Hanlon:
    3. Dartmouth Board of Trustees:
  3. Contact current and past members of the Lightweight Rowing Team for more suggestions
  4. Follow us on Instagram (@savedartmouthlights)
  5. Support the Dartmouth Swimming and Diving Team's petition

Parting Thoughts

"Sir, you may destroy this little institution; it is weak, it is in your hands! I know it is one of the lesser lights on the... horizon of our country. You may put it out! But if you do so, you must carry through your work! You must extinguish, one after another, all those great lights... which for more than a century have thrown their radiance over our land! It is, Sir, as I have said, a small college [sport]. And yet there are those who love it! " – Daniel Webster

“Although an enduring sense of place involves loyalty and faithfulness to something concrete, what we ultimately sense in this place is not the architecture and geography, the external landscape. Rather, we sense the impression that has been made on our inner landscapes, the spaces of our hearts and minds, by the purposes that brought our predecessors here and that we still pursue.” – Dan Nelson ‘75, from “Knowing Our Place,” Dartmouth Undying (1999, p 221)

Rowing for the Dartmouth Lightweight Rowing team has made deep and everlasting impressions on all of our “inner landscapes,” and it is this feeling, this impact, that Dartmouth College strives so hard to cultivate. Community is built on trust, and on July 8th, 2020, Dartmouth carelessly broke that trust. Help us show the College that it is not only important, but essential, that they repair what they have broken.