Hanlon Targets Campus Sex Assaults; College Must Fix Social Climate for Students

Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Hanover — Sexual assault will not be tolerated at Dartmouth, President Phil Hanlon said Monday during an address to the college’s Arts and Sciences faculty at the Hanover Inn that also focused on safety issues and the social climate on campus.

He also pointed to the problem of high-risk drinking — a problem he said affects 40 percent of college students nationwide. Hanlon said the number of Dartmouth students with dangerously high blood alcohol content is decreasing, but more work needs to be done.

And he emphasized the need to add social activities that reach beyond the school’s fraternities and sororities, proposing several ideas that he suggested could improve students’ on-campus experience, such as establishing theme-based residence halls and balancing enrollment among the four academic terms so students can live in the same dorm with the same friends for more than one term.

Hanlon spoke Monday to some 200 Arts and Sciences faculty and observers, shifting his focus to quality of life issues from the academic vision for the college he outlined two weeks ago in an address to the general faculty. He was joined by Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson at Monday’s event.

“Having even one sexual assault on campus is one too many,” Hanlon said. “We need to be unified as a community in taking responsibility for this issue and making it clear that sexual assault will not be tolerated on this campus.”

Hanlon boasted of activities already underway at Dartmouth, including the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, established with the help of clinical psychologist Jennifer Messina. The initiative trains students to intervene when they feel a social situation could lead to an assault. Training began over the summer and more than 600 fraternity and sorority leaders, athletes and other upperclassmen have been trained. Hanlon said he hopes to have 800 students trained by next summer.

The staff that responds to sexual assault has also expanded, Hanlon said. The Sexual Assault Awareness Program is searching for a survivor advocate, and a special investigator position has been created through the Safety and Security Department to respond to sexual assault complaints.

He warned that if the college is successful in its sexual assault programs, then the number of reported sexual assaults will likely rise because survivors will feel more comfortable with coming forward.

When Hanlon opened up the conversation for questions, one faculty member asked if college policy requires a student who commits a rape to be automatically expelled.

Johnson answered that question, saying students found to have committed sexual assault should expect to be expelled, but expulsion is not automatic.

In February 2012, former president Jim Yong Kim established a Committee on Student Safety and Accountability. That group produced a nine-page report, which recommends that “students found responsible for rape or other egregious sexual offenses should expect to be separated from the college.” In an interview before Monday’s address, Hanlon said a zero-tolerance policy under which the perpetrator of sexual assault is automatically expelled should be considered. “I completely understand the incredible burden placed on the survivor if they’re in a small community where the perpetrator is also present,” Hanlon said.

This is not the first time Hanlon has spoken about sexual assault. He brought up that topic, along with high-risk drinking, at his September inauguration. The college started a program in 2011 that involved online assessments of alcohol use, followed by coaching and regular check-up sessions for students who had been cited for drinking violations. It has since been expanded to include athletes with no alcohol violations.

Hanlon also cited a 2011 commitment to reduce the number of students who are hospitalized or have other “medical encounters” with blood alcohol levels of 0.25 or higher. The number of students with BAC levels of 0.25 or higher dropped from 80 in 2011 to 61 in 2012 to 31 during the 2012-13 school year.

“We can’t take our foot off the accelerator,” Hanlon said. “I’m not here to declare victory, but we are doing a lot of things that are taking effect.”

Hanlon, who previously served as provost at the University of Michigan, has spoken to hundreds of people since he assumed the Dartmouth presidency in June. He said when he asks what could be done to improve student life, the most common answer is: create more social options.

Dartmouth’s 17 fraternities, 11 sororities and three co-ed fraternities dominate the social life on campus.

“Some expressed this as a concern — that Greek life is too dominant on campus,” Hanlon said. “But I heard this just as often from the staunchest supporters of the Greek system, that the campus would benefit from a richer variety of social options.”

Hanlon, a 1977 Dartmouth graduate and former member of Alpha Delta, said he supports the initiative to expand college-sponsored events, such as “Collis After Dark,” which provides late-night concerts, comedy and food. Hanlon also suggested creating programs that would provide an place for students to eat and drink and interact late at night, such as an “Arts and Innovation District” that could provide a social outlet for students who love the arts, performance and entrepreneurship.

Hanlon repeatedly spoke about building community, and said strong residence hall communities are missing from the social scene. He suggested creating theme-based residence halls centered around entrepreneurship, undergraduate research, performing and visual arts, creativity and design, and global scholarship. Two or three pilot programs will be created next fall, he said.

Hanlon also wants to create a more balanced student enrollment among the college’s four academic terms. More students now enroll in the fall and spring terms than the winter and summer terms, which creates a problem, Hanlon said, because when students take a “leave” term, they don’t have the option to return to the same residence hall because there is no “slack” in housing during the fall and spring terms. A more balanced enrollment would allow students to remain in the same residence hall — with the same friends — from term to term, Hanlon said.

While many faculty members at Monday’s event supported Hanlon’s ideas, biology professor Lee Witters stood up and said Hanlon wasn’t getting at the root of the problem.

“I would suggest that Dartmouth has a cancer. It is systemic. It has been festering for decades … spilling into our intellectual life,” Witters said.

He cited homophobia and racism as issues and suggested that high-risk drinking and sexual assault are simply symptoms of Dartmouth’s disease. He suggested calling in outside experts who can look at Dartmouth’s problem from a different perspective.

“Those are symptoms of some deep underlying … structural issues of the college,” Witters said after the meeting.

Religion professor Christopher MacEvitt said he supports social opportunities for students, but pointed out that fraternities are so dominant on campus because they have the space and the financial resources.

“I think there are a lot of fundamental structural issues on campus,” MacEvitt said after the meeting. “Essentially, fraternities control social spaces in a way that no other social space is available to students, not even in sororities.”

If the college really wants to diversify social options, MacEvitt said, it needs to create programs equivalent to what fraternities can offer.

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


The number of "medical encounters" at Dartmouth College that involved students having blood-alcohol content levels of 0.25 or higher declined to 31 during the 2012-13 school year. An earlier version of this story was unclear on that point.

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