Dartmouth Students Express Shock, Numbness to Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit

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    Dartmouth students Julie Lim and Stephanie Quintero, both in the class of 2020, react to a $70 million class-action lawsuit brought against the college for sexual misconduct, in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Lim said, "It's good that this kind of thing is being brought to the attention of the public; even if it is our school, it sets a precedent for other institutions". (Valley News — Rick Russell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Rick Russell

  • Dartmouth students Nick Schoeller, of Concord, Mass., and Ish McLaughlin, of Summit, N.J., share their opinions about a $70 million class-action lawsuit brought against the college for sexual misconduct, in Hanover, N.H., on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (Valley News - Rick Russell) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Rick Russell

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2018 11:42:09 PM
Modified: 11/21/2018 1:40:10 PM

Hanover — Shock, disappointment and conflicting emotions toward the school were some of the feelings expressed by Dartmouth College students in the wake of a class-action lawsuit filed by seven current and former students against the Ivy League institution this week.

Filed on Thursday, the $70 million suit brought forth by a group of female psychology and brain sciences students brought to light unseemly details of allegations against former professors Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and Bill Kelley, all of whom resigned or retired earlier this year following internal investigations into alleged sexual misconduct beginning last fall.

Few specifics of those allegations were made public before Thursday’s lawsuit revealed claims that professors “leered at, groped, sexted, intoxicated and even raped female students,” and “perpetuated an alcohol saturated ‘party culture,’ by conducting lab meetings at bars, by inviting students to ‘hot tub parties,’ at private residences, and by suggesting undergraduates use cocaine as part of a class demonstration on addiction.”

The lawsuit claims college administrators turned a blind eye despite knowledge of the abuse over a period of 16 years.

Even during a busy period of final exams wrapping up this weekend, many students made time to read news reports — many from national sources, such as The New York Times and CNN — after an email from President Phil Hanlon sent to the entire campus on Thursday acknowledged the lawsuit and denied the characterizations of Dartmouth’s actions.

“It’s like, ‘Come on.’ It’s really a shame this would happen here,” Rachel Quist, a freshman from St. Peter, Minn., said on Saturday during a walk near the Collis Center with classmates Chantal Elias and Katie Miller. “Like with anything, there are two different sides to the story, and I know the college has their own version. But when you read some of these articles, it doesn’t look good.”

In defense of the college, Hanlon’s email states that Dartmouth’s leadership is “dedicated to maintaining a safe and inclusive campus for all members of our community.”

Quist, Elias and Miller said they haven’t felt uncomfortable on campus during their first semester and that they feel the college “definitely tries” to discourage sexual misconduct though various education and support initiatives.

“There are a lot of student life groups that work really hard so that (sexual assault victims) are supported,” Miller said. “As part of orientation, we all had training about what to do if we see or hear about sexual assault.”

Still, they said, the school has plenty of room for progress.

“You can be proactive, but (the allegations) are part of a deeply entrenched culture,” Elias said. “It takes constant effort to reverse something like that.”

Sophomore Abby Shipley said she wasn’t bowled over by the details of the allegations that emerged in the lawsuit, but only because it wasn’t new to her. In her view, the fact that the college began investigating the three professors during her freshman year was damning enough.

“When all of this first came out, it was surprising,” Shipley said, adding that she probably would read more about the lawsuit after finals. “I kind of feel like, as a campus, we’ve already been through this and it’s in the past. I feel like the college has handled it well.”

Several students indicated general desensitization to such news in light of the myriad sexual assault allegations surfacing during the #MeToo movement. Sophomores Ish McLaughlin and Nick Schoeller said that while close to home, the allegations against Heatherton, Whalen and Kelley are only the latest revelations in a national epidemic of abuse.

“It’s disappointing, but it’s less of a shock now than it might have been three or four years ago,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a very serious issue, but it’s not a new one, just because you’ve heard about these kinds of things so much, recently.”

Other students, including a senior environmental studies major and an undecided freshman, both of whom declined to provide their names, said they have seen examples of misogyny and a “toxic culture” at Dartmouth.

The senior who said she’s involved in numerous student government organizations said she hopes the lawsuit brought on by the seven women helps inspire other victims to come forward without fearing consequences.

That’s also the aim of Abby Tassel, senior program adviser for WISE Upper Valley, a Lebanon-based nonprofit that advocates to end gender-based violence. WISE maintains an office near the Dick’s House health services center on campus.

Open twice per week for walk-ins and at other times for scheduled appointments, one of the services of WISE’s Dartmouth office is to help victims of sexual assault and other gender-based violence understand options for coming forward. “We help them navigate into whatever process they choose and explain what some of the benefits might be for each one,” said Tassel, who cited WISE’s confidentiality policy when asked if any of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs had consulted with the organization. “We want them to know they can access support no matter which avenue they choose to pursue.”

WISE also offers its support services through a crisis line it staffs 24 hours daily, seven days a week.

As for eliminating instances of sexual harassment and assault at Dartmouth or any other institution, Tassel pointed to what many feel is the crux of the matter: accepted culture.

“It’s all about culture,” she said. “You can focus on individual perpetrators of violence, but you also have to look at the systems in place that embolden these actions, the cultures and subcultures that support them. Anytime you’re trying to end gender-based violence, you have to think about the context of the oppression.”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.

Clarification: An earlier version of this article was unclear about the times when WISE services are available for victims of gender-based violence.

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