Attack Leaves Students Wary
Dartmouth Campus Sexual Assault Occurred at High-Traffic Location
Hanover — Police said the investigation into a sexual assault of a female Dartmouth College employee on Saturday night is “active,” though no suspect has been identified.
Hanover Det. Capt. Frank Moran said the attack involved “physically dragging that individual into an area off the sidewalk, and a sexual assault did occur.”
The victim was walking along College Street around 9:30 p.m. Saturday when the attack happaned near the Congregational Church on College Street and the Novack Cafe, according to police and a campus-wide email sent Saturday night by Dartmouth’s Department of Safety and Security.
Moran said the area is well-lit and traveled by pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic, making it an “unusual location” for an attack.
Police were unable to locate the assailant. He is described as a tall, white, “college aged” male wearing a button-down shirt. Dartmouth Safety and Security is assisting with the investigation, Moran said.
The incident took place one day after the inauguration of College President Phil Hanlon, who reiterated his firm stance against sexual violence on campus. Dartmouth had the highest incidence of sexual assault per capita among the eight Ivy League colleges in 2010, according to an analysis by Bloomberg News, and had the second highest rate in 2011, the last year data was available.
On campus Monday, several female students said the incident was in the back of their minds, but not a major topic of discussion on campus. While most were taking common-sense measures to protect themselves, such as walking in groups at night, they generally felt safe and were not altering their daily routines.
Some students said they were surprised to learn of the incident, although Pauline Lewis, a sophomore from the Bronx, N.Y., said she was not.
“I was sad, but I wasn’t shocked, only because there’s been things like this in the past,” said Lewis, who said she viewed the incident as part of something that’s “ongoing.”
Postdoctoral student Alicia Petryk, who has lived in the Upper Valley since completing her undergraduate studies at Dartmouth in 2002, said people should always find these incidents surprising. The location of the alleged assault in the heart of the campus, she said, was shocking.
“I’ve just walked that path right now, and it’s not a place that I would be cautious of,” she said.
Earl Sweet, president of Local 560 of the Service Employees International Union, said that he has not been on campus since Thursday and has not had a chance to talk to employees, but said that “any time something like this happens on campus ... it’s very concerning.”
“You don’t hear of employees getting assaulted that much on campus; it’s usually between the students, he said.”
Hanlon’s inauguration remarks followed a tulmutuous semester last Spring surrounding allegations of sexual assault and hazing: A day of classes was canceled last spring after a group of students interrupted an event, protesting what they perceived to be a campus culture that tolerates sexual assault, racism and homophobia. A few months later, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights started a compliance review of the college for sexual harassment grievance procedures and potential violations of Title IX.
Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson called Saturday’s assault “terribly upsetting,” noting that the problem of sexual violence affects communities broadly.
“This is a problem that affects society at large, this is a problem that all colleges are facing … that all communities are facing,” he said. “Of course (Hanlon) takes this seriously, as do we all, and it’s terribly upsetting.”
He said members of the college’s Office of Residential Life are reaching out to students to ensure they’re aware of the Safe Ride service, a program operated by students from 9 p.m to 4 a.m. nightly and dispatched by the Department of Safety and Security, transporting students who might otherwise need to walk alone across campus.
They are also trying to increase awareness of blue light telephones, which are available for emergency use throughout campus, and Safety and Security officers are increasing foot patrols in that area.
Most students, including freshman Eliza Hoffman, of Thetford, found out about the attack through the campus-wide email alert sent Saturday night. (An amended alert was emailed on Sunday morning, correcting that the victim was not a student, as originally written.)
“My friends and I ... sort of mentioned it to each other, and I think we were kind of surprised,” Hoffman said, “but it didn’t change anything I did Saturday night.”
Hoffman said that she is rarely alone when she walks around campus at night, save for a brief walk to or from the library. She was frustrated by the email alert from the college, she said, because of its vagueness: The description of a college-aged male with short hair wearing plaid “literally could have been half the guys here,” she said.
And while the news release distributed by police on Monday was more clear about the nature of the incident, the email alerts on Saturday and Sunday limited the description of the event to a sexual assault, leading Hoffman wondering whether it was a violent attack or something verbal and “how worried (she) should be.”
Moran said Saturday’s reported assault does not appear to be related to an incident from mid-August, when a student in her early 20s was allegedly attacked by a man with a stun gun while she was walking on Route 10. The physical descriptions of the two perpetrators are very different, he said.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3220.