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Critics Urge Dartmouth to Do More on Culture; Training Stumbles Over Stereotypes



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, January 28, 2019

Hanover — Members of Dartmouth College’s community continue to offer administrators suggestions of ways to improve campus culture in the wake of the college’s response earlier this month to a class-action lawsuit relating to sexual misconduct in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In a meeting with administrators last week, representatives of a group called the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment & Sexual Violence advocated for three key changes:

■Place the PBS department into receivership that would replace its current leadership with an outside administrator.

■Prioritize hiring senior female professors (with tenure) to increase the representation of women in departments — such as PBS — with gender imbalances.

■Recruit campus advocates trained to support victims of sexual harassment and assault to serve as a first point of contact for those seeking to air concerns or make reports.

“I don’t think that the administration has really listened yet to our needs and concerns,” Diana Whitney, a 1995 Dartmouth graduate and member of DCGHSV, said on Monday.

To urge change, Whitney and two other members of the DCGHSV met with President Phil Hanlon, the Dartmouth Board of Trustees Chairwoman Laurel Richie, two other trustees and three other senior administrators in Hanover on Friday.

Though she went into the hour-long meeting with low expectations, thinking Dartmouth’s leaders might be looking to check off a box or talk at them, Whitney said she was encouraged by the response she received. The tone of the meeting was respectful and collegial, she said.

Overall, it “felt like some kind of progress.”

Though there are no plans for a follow-up meeting, Whitney said DCGHSV will be following up in writing.

The college recently has taken steps, such as a new campus climate and culture initiative announced earlier this month, to address sexual harassment and other unwelcome conduct.

But groups such as DCGHSV, which includes about 70 alumni, graduate students and undergraduates who seek to end gender-based harassment and violence on campus, contend that these steps do not go far enough.

Whitney — a Brattleboro, Vt.-based activist, writer and mother of two daughters, who said she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student while at Dartmouth — said her group’s proposed changes would help repair the community’s trust in the institution.

In terms of the idea of a receivership, in which the college would replace the PBS department’s leader with someone from outside the department, Whitney said she sees it “as a way to disrupt the dynamics that have been within the department.”

College spokeswoman Diana Lawrence, in an emailed statement on Monday, did not directly address the idea of putting the PBS department in receivership.

Instead, she said, the college is undertaking departmental reviews — led by Abigail Stewart, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a national expert in creating inclusive academic environments, and Vicki May, professor of engineering at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering — as part of the new campus climate and culture initiative.

“The reviews are designed to help us understand whether individual academic departments at Dartmouth are equitable and inclusive environments for all of their members,” she wrote. “The exercise will assess current conditions and identify opportunities for improvement, while also recognizing what is going well and how to build on success.”

In addition, Lawrence said Dartmouth has committed to increasing the percentage of underrepresented tenure-track faculty — including women — to 25 percent by 2020.

To get there, Dartmouth is undertaking creative recruitment approaches, networking and outreach activities, professional development opportunities and the creation of pipeline relationships with graduate institutions, Lawrence wrote. Beginning in fiscal year 2017, the Office of the Provost doubled funding for this work from $1 million to $2 million a year. The new initiative pledges additional resources to recruit up to 12 new hires per year for the next five years.

In the past year, 38 percent of the two-dozen new faculty members hired have been women, she wrote.

The lawsuit, which was filed in November by seven current and former students in the PBS department, alleges that college administrators knew about three male psychology professors’ misconduct for 16 years before undertaking investigations that eventually led the professors — Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen — to resign or retire last summer.

In its Jan. 15 filing, the college disputed the plaintiffs’ claims that administrators turned a blind eye to a “party culture” that condoned the professors’ actions, which the suit’s plaintiffs allege ranged from sexual harassment to assault.

The college’s path toward a changed climate has included at least one bump in the road.

As part of the new campus climate and culture initiative, all Dartmouth faculty, staff and post-doctoral researchers are required to take a mandatory online Title IX training by the end of the winter term. Though intended to improve participants’ understanding of sexual harassment and violence, the training — created by the digital institutional training firm EverFi — has inspired criticism from some, including the faculty of the Latin American, Latino and Caribbean Studies program.

The faculty, in a Jan. 18 letter written by the department’s chairman Matt Garcia to Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon that was published on the website of the college’s American Association of University Professors Chapter, criticized the training for featuring Puerto Rican men in “the first and most specific example of abuse in the entire video.”

This example, Garcia said in a Monday phone interview, reinforces the stereotype that Latinos are particularly abusive of women.

Garcia said he and the other faculty members were “a bit shocked that the training would reinforce those messages.”

“We felt that was an unfortunate choice in the context of Dartmouth and why we’re doing it,” Garcia said. “It was the abuse of power of three white men that brought about this training.”

Once Garcia presented administrators with these concerns, they acknowledged the problem with the training, he said.

But, following a meeting on Monday afternoon, he said it remains unclear how they will address it.

“Everybody’s going to try to learn from this,” he said.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727- 3213.