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Dartmouth Announces Initiative Aimed at Curbing Sexual Harassment

  • The east side of campus and College Park is seen from the Baker Tower on Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2019

Hanover — Dartmouth College administrators on Thursday announced the launch of a “Campus Climate and Culture Initiative,” which aims to “foster healthy, professional and nurturing relationships among faculty, staff and students.”

The launch comes following scrutiny of Dartmouth’s culture after three male, tenured professors in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences were ousted last summer following investigations into their sexual misconduct. Affected current and former female students in the department filed a class-action lawsuit in November.

“Powerful accounts of sexual misconduct and the surfacing of painful memories have had a profound effect on us all,” Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon and other top administrators said in an collegewide email on Thursday morning. “While change does not come easily for any institution, and there are no easy solutions, the stories that brave members of our community have shared strengthen our resolve to ensure that our learning environment is safe and inclusive for all of its members.”

The new initiative, known as C3I, draws on a 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine which describes the damage sexual harassment can have on research integrity and schools’ ability to retain talented students and faculty.

The Dartmouth program aims to address three kinds of sexual harassment identified in the National Academies report, including gender harassment (sexist hostility and crude behavior); unwanted sexual attention (unwelcome verbal or physical sexual advances); and sexual coercion (when favorable professional or educational treatment is conditioned on sexual activity).

Examples of all three of these forms of harassment are outlined in the $70 million class-action lawsuit, which seven women filed in U.S. District Court in Concord in mid-November. Broadly, the suit alleges that the now-former professors Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley were promoted and awarded tenure even as they perpetuated a “party culture” and — at least in Whalen and Kelley’s cases — pursued sexual relationships with their students and retaliated against those who rebuffed their advances.

A group of alumni, graduate students and undergraduates calling itself the Dartmouth Community Against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence had last month submitted an open letter to Hanlon and the trustees in support of the plaintiffs in the class-action suit against the college. In that letter, dated Dec. 6 and signed by about 800 members of the Dartmouth community, the group wrote, “As members of the Dartmouth community spanning several generations, we are acutely aware that these were not isolated incidents, but rather part of an institutional culture that minimizes and disregards sexual violence and gender harassment.”

On Wednesday, in advance of the administration’s announcement of this new initiative, the group, which now has almost 70 members, submitted a letter to Hanlon and Dartmouth’s board of trustees outlining a series of actions they hope the school will take to “uphold the college’s stated principles and core values, acknowledge their glaring breach of responsibility, issue a public apology and begin a transparent overhaul of regressive practices.”

The letter also said Dartmouth to date had been “an institution more dedicated to curating its reputation than safeguarding its community.”

In Wednesday’s letter, the group calls on Dartmouth to provide victims of gender-based harassment and sexual assault with access to support from a confidential victim’s advocate to act as a liaison between the victim and other Dartmouth offices. Among other things, it also calls for extended career guidance for alumni survivors due to “the long-term and often crippling effects of trauma on (their) career trajectories,” as well as educational seminars on subjects such as power dynamics and victim-blaming.

As outlined in Thursday’s email, through its new initiative Dartmouth will:

■work with Abigail Stewart, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and a national expert in creating inclusive academic environments, to conduct climate reviews for all Dartmouth departments.

■Continue work to create a single sexual misconduct policy that will be applied across the institution.

■Create a working group tasked with diffusing “hierarchical, power-differentiated relationships between faculty and advisees, faculty and staff, and senior faculty and junior faculty.”

■Immediately institute mandatory Title IX training.

■Provide leadership development training for those who manage other researchers.

■Ensure that all graduate students have access to multiple advisers.

■Provide additional resources to a diversity recruitment fund aimed at recruiting up to 12 new faculty members who are underrepresented in their fields for each of the next five years.

■And add five mental health counselors to the college’s staff, bringing the total to 15 by 2022.

The initiative will combine with two other recent efforts, Moving Dartmouth Forward and Inclusive Excellence, to shape a program “to ensure that behaviors and relationships in all contexts on campus are consistent with our values,” the administrators said on Thursday.

The college launched Moving Dartmouth Forward in 2015 to address undergraduate social issues such as sexual assault, high-risk drinking, and other harmful and exclusionary behaviors. The following year, the college rolled out Inclusive Excellence, which aims to create a culture of inclusion and equity, and promote diversity.

The Dartmouth initiative will be evaluated by an external advisory committee, led by Gilda Barabino, dean of the Grove School of Engineering at the City College of New York and a member of the task force that wrote the National Academies report. The committee — which also includes Dartmouth-Hitchcock CEO Joanne Conroy, a 1977 Dartmouth graduate — will issue an annual report to the board of trustees that will be public.

Barabino declined comment on her own behalf and on that of the committee’s other members via email on Thursday.

“Given that the charge of the external advisory committee of Dartmouth’s Campus Climate and Culture Initiative is to report on the progress of the plan and the effectiveness of its measures, it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this point,” she said.

Diana Whitney, a 1995 Dartmouth graduate and a member of the DCGHSV, said she was encouraged by some of the steps contained in the initiative, especially a pledge for greater transparency and the external committee. Whitney, who said she was sexually assaulted while at Dartmouth, also was glad to see increased investment in mental health counseling.

But, Whitney said, the plan “doesn’t have (the) specific details and timelines that we’re calling for.”

The group has asked that the college undertake several of its requested actions by Dartmouth’s homecoming next fall.

Some members of the Dartmouth community are hoping the institution will apologize, Jennifer Ditano, a current doctoral candidate in experimental and molecular medicine, said in a Thursday email.

“Personally, I find it frustrating that the initiative doesn’t address the existence of past victims and survivors, nor does it acknowledge any culpability on behalf of the institution, though we’ve called for both actions repeatedly,” said Ditano, who is a member of the DCGHSV.

Whitney acknowledged that creating change at an institutional level isn’t easy. To get there, she said, the college needs to ask “Who do we want to be?”

Hanlon has invited members of the DCGHSV to come and meet with him in Hanover, Whitney said. While the group aims to take him up on that offer, it plans to wait until the college has issued its response to the class-action lawsuit, she said.

“I’m hoping that when some of us meet with them that they would be willing to really listen at that time,” Whitney said.

In their email, administrators invited community members to email comments, questions and suggestions related to the new initiative to C3I@dartmouth.edu.

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