Dartmouth Looks Within: College Takes Break After Student Protest Uproar
Dartmouth junior Patton Lowenstein, of Garrison, N.Y., relaxes and senior Ian Herrick, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has a bite to eat while waiting for a rally to begin on the school’s campus yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth students Elizabeth Hoffman, a senior, left, and Yomalis Rosario, a sophomore, listen during a campus gathering outside Dartmouth Hall. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth student Adelaida Tamayo, a freshman, is given a slip of paper identifying the classroom she is to go to for a “teach-in” staff at the college were to hold across campus. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Junior Clayton Pierce spent the day hitting the books and didn’t attend any of the events the school had scheduled in lieu of classes because he said he had too much studying to do. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth College interim President Carol Folt addresses students. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Dartmouth sophomore Jon Miller holds signs during the gathering at the school yesterday as junior Evan Curhan, right, takes issue with Miller over the word choice used in the signs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Senior Samantha Reckford of Short Hills, N.J., listens during a rally in Hanover. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »
Hanover — The last time Dartmouth College canceled classes for non-weather-related purposes was in 1986, after the destruction of the anti-Apartheid “shanty town” on the green.
Yesterday, it was social unrest once again that led college administrators to call on students to take a time-out.
“Lots of people have been asking me why, why today,” interim President Carol Folt said during the midday community gathering in front of Dartmouth Hall. “It’s because we believe that the level of emotion — what had become a pressure cooker — was very close to exploding. We believed our community had hit a tipping point where festering wounds and years of calls for help needed to be addressed without further delay.”
Last Friday, a group of 15 students interrupted a show performance that was part of Dimensions, a multi-day recruiting event that is meant to entice prospective students who are deciding between schools. The protest was staged to draw attention to what the students said are instances of homophobia, sexual assault and racism that have occurred on campus.
In the hours after the protest, students began posting comments on a private online message board not run by the college where students can post anonymously. Some of the posts threatened the physical safety of the protesters.
Administrators heeded to the protesters request to cancel classes and instead ordered a day of reflection.
It was the vitriolic response to the protesters that convinced officials to cancel classes. Turnout included about 1,500 people who gathered on the front lawn of Dartmouth Hall to hear Folt and others speak. About 2,450 turned out for a complimentary lunch.
The first event for students yesterday was a 10 a.m. speech by a diversity educator at Dartmouth Hall. As students filed in to hear the speaker, Junior Roger Lott and sophomore Jon Miller held up signs protesting the original protesters and the administration’s decision to cancel classes.
Lott held up a sign that read, “Dartmouth is a safe place. Stop scaring the (prospective students). I paid for class. Where is it?”
One student walking into Dartmouth Hall stopped to read Lott’s sign and then snapped at him, saying she knows that students on campus make homophobic slurs because she’s heard them.
Miller said he chose to make signs because he thinks the protesters should be punished for “forcibly entering” the Dimensions show, but instead the administration was thanking them in emails for bringing their concerns forward.
“I think the administration is panicking because the protesters are accusing them of not doing enough,” Miller said.
Miller also said he’s disappointed that the administration has not taken action to reprimand the protesters for breaking the college’s standards of conduct by disrupting a college function.
Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said in an interview yesterday that the college is investigating complaints from all sides and will follow its process and policies for handling disciplinary cases. She said any disciplinary action would be meted out privately.
“It would be irresponsible for us to publicly condemn the protesters or any group of students that violate policies,” Johnson said.
Yesterday afternoon, more than 800 students attended teach-ins, where students and faculty broke up into small groups around the campus to talk about the college’s social climate.
“There will be strong partnerships that will be emerging in the coming weeks,” Folt said. “People want to continue talking.”
While there was no shortage of shock and disappointment expressed over some of the comments directed over the weekend at the protesters, participants had a difficult time quantifying the effectiveness of yesterday’s activities.
Karenina Rojas, a senior and one of the original Dimension protesters, said she thought the day was especially effective for those who have felt marginalized because it gave them an opportunity to talk in small groups with their peers.
She described Dartmouth students as falling into three categories: the students who have been marginalized; those who have not been marginalized and don’t care about those who have seen discrimination; and then there are those in the middle, who are happy with their Dartmouth experience but want to understand the perspective of those who have been hurt.
The students in the middle are the ones who showed up yesterday, Rojas said.
But she said this one day of reflection is not enough.
“Reflection needs to happen every day at Dartmouth for it to be enough,” Rojas said. “There also needs to be a structural change. It’s not enough for people to be nice.”
In an interview yesterday afternoon, Johnson and Folt talked in generalities about what was accomplished by cancelling classes. Johnson spoke of a stronger “coalition” made of students, faculty and staff overcoming their differences and building a community based on inclusiveness and respect.
There are a few items of change that students can expect to see immediately, Folt said, such as more dinners where students and faculty will be invited to attend to discuss campus issues. Faculty and students have also begun talking about how they can improve the social interactions of the incoming freshmen at fall orientation.
Bored at Baker, the online message board that drew the attention of college officials, was down yesterday. A posting on the main page said, “I do want to make it clear that taking the site offline has nothing to do with the current dialog on any b@ site and has everything to do with server health.”
Comments on the Bored at Baker site in recent days included:
■ “Just saw the pictures of the protesters. Don’t think they have anything to worry about when it comes to being raped.”
■ “The protesters have shown us a perfect way to avoid sexual assault, get hideously ugly and make the whole campus hate you!”
■ “It’s official, I’m going to start referring to these protestors as terrorists.”
As faculty members held their own meeting yesterday morning, a group of 18 students stepped out of the Black Family Visual Arts Center holding white signs with threatening and discriminating comments from Bored at Baker. The students walked past the Hopkins Center in silence and crossed the street in front of the Hanover Inn, before doing a lap around the green.
The messages on the white signs are the reason why the administration called for a day of reflection.
“I think it’s important to recognize that it was technically done by the president, because she’s the only person with the power to do it, but I think it is clear that it was forced by the student activists,” history professor Russell Rickford said at midday.
Yesterday’s 70 degree temperatures brought students out of their apartments and dorms and onto the green. Many played frisbee, volleyball or sat in the grass on blankets, while others were voluntarily inside at the teach-ins.
Elsewhere, fraternity members sat in front of their houses in lawn chairs while music blasted, while across the street two men played cornhole.
Economics professor Bruce Sacerdote stood in front of the roughly 1,500 students on the front lawn of Dartmouth Hall and said he was shocked when he saw a list of comments from Bored at Baker.
“I was floored that there was a fundamental civil rights issue that still needed to be addressed,” Sacerdote said to the crowd.
Just because it appears that students talk about the issues in class or that the faculty doesn’t pass resolutions doesn’t make hate speech acceptable, Sacerdote said.
“Nobody is OK with it,” Sacerdote said. “There is absolutely no one, other than perhaps five or six whack-job-wing-nut perpetrators that is OK with it. And so we all need to do a better job.”
But others have seen this kind of hatred on campus before. Rickford, the history professor, said that while he was shocked by how hurtful and wrong the comments were, he said he wasn’t shocked that they were made.
“It is a systemic problem,” Rickford said. “It’s part of the culture here. We have a rape culture, not just at Dartmouth. We have a rape culture around the world.”
History professor Annelise Orleck said students are sometimes raped or attacked and then later find their attacker in their classroom.
“We’ve all had students in our office talking about this,” Orleck said. “I’m not shocked. Sadly, in my 23 years here I’ve seen too much of this.”
But she said she thinks the discussions between students and faculty is breaking down the hierarchy. Also, the protesters were feeling so unsafe that it was important to talk about this, she said.
“These guys were brave enough to make it visible,” Orleck said. “And so now we are all talking about it.”
Sarah Brubeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3223.