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At Dartmouth, Racist Scrawl Timed to Hurt Most

  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • R.J. Moore of West Lebanon, 4, looks up while carrying two candles, one lit and one unlit, during the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    R.J. Moore of West Lebanon, 4, looks up while carrying two candles, one lit and one unlit, during the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover, NH on January 21, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Libby March

    Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover, NH on January 21, 2013.
    Valley News - Libby March Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

    Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • R.J. Moore of West Lebanon, 4, looks up while carrying two candles, one lit and one unlit, during the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)
  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover, NH on January 21, 2013. <br/>Valley News - Libby March
  • Gabriela Hernandez, 3, of Hanover, is reluctant to blow out her little light at the close of the candlelight vigil at Dartmouth College on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Hanover yesterday. (Valley News - Libby March)

The nation inaugurated its first black president for the second time yesterday, and in the same breath honored Martin Luther King, Jr. But two days prior, someone wrote a racist comment on a whiteboard in a students’ dorm on the Dartmouth College campus.

It’s the second time in three months that someone has scrawled a racial slur on a Dartmouth wall.

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson stood in front of about 50 people yesterday afternoon and described the ironies of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For one, King was a monumental figure in the civil rights struggle, but was killed for what he believed in and for who he was.

And while the country has come a long way with President Obama’s inauguration, she said she still hears about discrimination on campus, including when someone wrote “the n word” in a Dartmouth dorm this weekend.

“I hear from students on this campus and other campuses about racial discrimination, gender discrimination, homophobia, sexism, all forms of hatred and all forms of bigotry,” Johnson said. “The irony of a day like today where we hold up a man like Dr. King, and on the same day we inaugurate Barack Obama, is that there is nothing post racial about America.”

Johnson, a woman of color, said the college must form a coalition of inclusion and where everyone feels a sense of belonging and purpose.

“What I want to say to you today is that there is nothing right, there is nothing acceptable about hatred on this campus,” Johnson said. “There is nothing acceptable about people being fearful of being in a place where they belong.”

Johnson said she thinks people on campus are angry — she’s heard the words “anger” and “outrage” in students as they expressed themselves. At the same time, she said that anger might be overshadowed by a desire to eradicate all forms of bigotry.

Only an hour earlier, a group of about 40 met in a lounge in the Choates residence hall, the same dorm where the racial comment appeared this weekend. (The Valley News was told to leave the discussion because only members of the Dartmouth community were invited. The Dartmouth, the college’s student newspaper, was allowed to report the meeting.)

Mike Wooten, director of residential education and member of the Bias Incident Response Team that organized the meeting, said that many of the people who were in attendance were those that already “converted” and felt that they were preaching to the choir.

He said many students expressed “meeting fatigue” because each time an incident like this occurs, the administration wants to hold another meeting and that can be frustrating to a group of students who are often facing injustice.

A similar instance was reported in November when someone drew racist graffiti in one of the residence halls and a discussion was organized in its wake, as well, Wooten said.

At the same time, Wooten said that he thinks the administration needed to respond in some way, whether it was yesterday — Martin Luther King Jr. Day — or another day.

“Martin Luther King would talk about how the arc of history bends toward justice, but I’m not sure where we are in that bend, and today is an example of that. There’s a lot to do,” Wooten said.

He added that he gets uncomfortable when people use the word celebrate to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. Day. A celebration makes it seem that something has been accomplished and that people can move on to the next thing.

“Well today was an example that we’re not done with this conversation, or this action or this growth that we need to have,” Wooten said.

Many students also agreed that the college needs to use different language when talking about these racist acts, senior Racquel Bernard said. Instead of calling it a “bias incident,” the college needs to use more forceful language and call it what it is: a hate crime, Bernard said.

In addition, Bernard said students seem to become desensitized to racial instances while they’re at Dartmouth and become socialized not to view these acts in a critical way and instead accept it, which she hopes can change.

After the 45-minute conversation, many students gathered for a candlelight vigil organized for Martin Luther King Jr. Day by Alpha Phi Alpha, a historically black fraternity.

As students, community members and small children walked across the Dartmouth green, they held the flame of their candle against a white piece of paper and sang the words, “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us. Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Hanover — Dartmouth College has seen its third report of racism in as many months, as college officials are investigating an incident in which students were allegedly verbally harassed “because of their perceived race.” Two Asian students reported that they were walking in the dining hall at the college’s ’53 Commons student union Wednesday when a white student “walked by …