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Protest Sparks Anonymous Threats at Dartmouth

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
Hanover — A protest decrying homophobia, sexual assault and racism during Dartmouth College’s Dimensions event has not only pushed harassment issues to the forefront of students’ conversations, but it has also brought an onslaught of criticism and threats toward the protesters.

About 500 prospective students were sitting in the dining hall of the Class of 1953 Commons Friday for a Dimensions revue show — part of a weekend-long event by the college to win over admitted students on the fence about attending — when about 15 students suddenly burst through the door chanting, “Dartmouth has a problem!”

A group of current students who were on the stage and in the middle of their second skit, ducked behind the curtain to avoid a confrontation with the protesters, said 19-year-old freshman Jessica Ma, one of the Dimension show performers.

As the protesters walked around the prospective students sitting crossed- legged on floor, they yelled, “Three years, 15 reported sexual assaults. But 95 percent go unreported. Only three rapists expelled in 10 years. Dartmouth has a problem!”

The chant went on to allege incidents on campus of homophobic, sexist graffiti and a verbal racist attacks that have occurred over the past couple years. One student carried a sign that read, “I was called fag in my freshman dorm.”

“Let us show you another dimension of Dartmouth,” the protesters chanted.

It only took about three minutes before a prospective student in the audience began to chant, “We love Dartmouth,” and others followed.

For Dartmouth officials looking to put the best spin on the college to win over prospective enrollees, the protest showed another side of the campus usually hidden from public view. At the same time, it also gave the potential Dartmouth students a first-hand look on the kind of real-college issues and conflicts they could face if they enroll in the fall.

Indeed, in the hours following the protest, students began posting anonymous threats online, primarily on Bored at Baker, a private website not administered by the college, Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson said. Bored at Baker — Baker is the name of the college library — is a free-wheeling online forum in which students often make menacing, profanity-laced comments. Anderson declined to discuss the comments in detail, but did say some of them referenced making physical harm.

“Threats and intimidation — even if made anonymously or online — violate our standards and expectations for the Dartmouth community. This kind of behavior is never justified,” Dean Charlotte Johnson wrote in a campus-wide email on Saturday.

The Bored at Baker comments are monitored and threatening ones are eventually deleted, Anderson said, but not before students have usually had a chance to read them.

The protesters have created a blog called Real Talk Dartmouth in which posts from Facebook and Bored at Baker were re-posted. One comment said that the police would “publicly execute” the protesters at noon on yesterday. Another said, “It’s official. I’m going to start referring to these protesters as terrorists.”

But others on the forum defended the students who interrupted the Dimensions show with protests.

“The protesters are not the scum of Dartmouth, the people threatening their lives and safety are,” wrote another anonymous post on the Bored at Baker site.

The protest at Dimensions was a strategic move, said Dani Valdes, a 22-year-old senior. Valdes said she and the other 15 protesters felt that the Dimensions they attended as “prospies” was an inaccurate reflection of what students would encounter when they arrived at Dartmouth.

“Looking back at our experiences, our expectations were so high after coming to Dimensions because we thought this is always how it was,” Valdes said. “People think it will be Kumbaya every day on the green and it’s not.”

Valdes and her friends knew that interrupting the Dimensions show with a protest would be unpopular and there was fear going into it, but they wanted to reach as many prospective students as they could with their message.

Each of the protesters said they have personally faced discrimination and insults — or worse.

“Someone called me a faggot my sophomore year. It made me feel horrible. It made me feel dead inside,” Valdes said.

Many of the protesters have worked with the administration to bring about positive change, Valdes said. Valdes has spent time at symposiums and dinners talking about violence and hate, but nothing has changed in the way students treat each other, she said, which is why she and others decided a targeted demonstration was necessary.

In the days prior to the protest, Valdes and her friends organized a “Real Talk” event. Current and prospective students met before the protest and read and listened to poetry that Valdes and her friends wrote about their hurtful encounters at Dartmouth.

But Valdes said she never imagined the hateful messages that began popping up on Bored at Baker and other social media sites. Valdes began taking screen shots of the comments and re-posting them on Facebook to show others what was happening on campus.

“I have never seen the kind of hate and verbal violence that I’ve seen in the past few days,” Valdes said. “I think I felt a lot of it, but here I just saw it. I saw what I’d been feeling.”

But many students said yesterday that they thought the protesters picked the wrong venue to make their point. Students have a passionate connection with Dimensions because for many it was the weekend they decided to go to Dartmouth.

Reed Sturtevant, a 19-year-old freshman, said the issues that Valdes was protesting are real, but Dimensions was not the place to raise them.

“They are not even a part of the Dartmouth community yet but they are already attacking them,” Sturtevant said.

Lizzy Rogers, an 18-year-old freshman, agreed with Sturtevant, but said nonetheless she couldn’t justify the threats that other students have made against the protesters in the past few days.

“The way the community reacted made it 10 times worse,” Rogers said. “That’s no reason to do what people are doing to them.”

The Class of 1953 Commons is the same location where two Asian students reported being harassed in January when a white student walked by them, made eye contact and said something that appeared to mock Chinese. Racist graffiti was also scrawled on the door of a campus door in January and November.

Valdes will be graduating Dartmouth in a couple months. But that didn’t stop her and the other protesters from delivering a letter to the administration on Sunday asking that classes be suspended yesterday — which didn’t happen. Valdes met with Interim President Carol Folt and Dean Johnson yesterday and acknowledged that she appreciated Johnson’s campus-wide email.

“They say that they don’t tolerate harassment, but the problem is the way this campus is organized, nothing changes in the way that we act and we live,” Valdes said. “This violence and hate continues and continues.”

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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