Letter: The Larger Problem at Dartmouth

To the Editor:

Thank you for your extended coverage of the April 18 protest at Dartmouth College, when 15 undergraduates interrupted a meeting for prospective students to show another side of the Dartmouth experience: sexual assault, homophobia and racism.

On May 23, four highly articulate, racially diverse Dartmouth protesters came to Kendal at Hanover for dinner and a meeting. Our 420 residents include both Dartmouth alumni and retired faculty members from Dartmouth and other major universities. Our goal was to see the problem from the protesters’ perspective.

At the meeting the students introduced themselves and then asked for questions. Residents inquired about each student’s personal experiences with sexual assault, homophobia and racism, the Dartmouth undergraduate culture, and what the protesters wanted to achieve. It became evident that they all value their Dartmouth education and “love” their professors. They particularly appreciated small seminars, which they described as rare opportunities to talk openly across racial and cultural boundaries. For many Kendal residents, it was a mesmerizing and thought-provoking evening.

I have tried to organize information about the protest to suggest possible solutions for Dartmouth and institutions with similar issues. Yes, there is sexual assault — under-reported by the administration and usually associated with alcohol abuse. There is overt and indirect discrimination toward various minorities. But these are symptoms of a larger problem. For the last few decades, the entering classes at Dartmouth (and elsewhere) have become increasingly diverse. During that time, students, including minorities, haven’t developed the cultural sensitivity and skills needed to cross racial and cultural boundaries, even if they are motivated to do so.

The problem is that Dartmouth undergraduates live in a globally diverse microcosm, but don’t know how to turn it into a community where students understand and respect each other. What the protesters want is for Dartmouth to take responsibility for teaching them how to do it. It will, they believe, both improve their undergraduate experience and smooth their transition to living and working in a diverse world. Major corporations, some nonprofits and a few colleges have been doing this for years. The educational technology is available.

David Berlew