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Forum, June 28: An example of structural inequity

Published: 6/27/2020 10:00:13 PM
Modified: 6/27/2020 10:00:10 PM
An example of structural inequity

It’s heartening to finally see Dartmouth College recognizing the offensive nature of its iconic weather vane and agreeing to replace it. But Dartmouth needs to reconsider more than iconography if it wants to be a welcoming place for people of color.

I recently talked with a student of color in the Class of 2020 who was able to attend Dartmouth because of a donated scholarship. This student excelled in classes, wrote an honors thesis and is applying to graduate school. But the gratitude the student felt toward the college was mixed with regret. The donor invited some students on financial aid to his home for weekends, where he would relive his time at Dartmouth by singing the traditional Dartmouth drinking song, penned by Richard Hovey. It describes Eleazar Wheelock, Dartmouth’s founder, coming to the “wilderness” and plying a Native American leader with rum. The student wanted to speak out about this racist mythology, and about other injustices experienced at Dartmouth, but didn’t want to appear ungrateful. The student confided that when minority students struggled with depression and feeling overwhelmed, they were often “reminded” by deans that “a lot of people from where you come from would like to be where you are, so you should remember to be grateful for the opportunities you have.”

This strikes me as a glaring example of structural inequity, of how financial aid at Dartmouth, intended to include minority and low-income students, comes with a price tag: Be grateful and don’t complain. But does the college reciprocate? Does it show gratitude to its students? Not only does this attitude suppress the critical voices of Black people, Indigenous people and people of color, but it prevents Dartmouth from hearing an accurate account of minority experiences as it reconsiders offensive iconography.

In fact, the college must go further in reckoning with its racist past and unfair present. It must adopt anti-racist practices that reflect the lived experiences of students. For starters: rejecting racially offensive imagery in its traditions, discouraging paternalistic attitudes among its alumni, and reforming financial structures that enable the inclusion of students of color but actually suppress their voices.



The writer is a professor of English at Dartmouth College.

We have to reset our expectations

A few “bad apples” are in our police departments. That is what right-leaning politicians and cable news networks have stated. That is also the tagline in the movie Spotlight, which is tangentially about priests abusing children in Boston but is primarily about the transition of the journalists at The Boston Globe as they confronted the reality that there were about 90 priests in Boston who abused children. And they finally understood, as an expert in priest abuse told them, the problem is systemic, based on the code of silence. Most priests are not celibate and the leads them all to cover for each other.

The police are in the same situation. They cover for each other. No one, police or anyone else, is perfect. When we hold the police to the standard of perfect, then they are more motivated to cover for each other.

I support the people who become police officers to keep our communities safe. We, the public, are part of the problem. We distrust the police. They know it. That perpetuates the “us vs. them” attitude. This developed in part because of the illegality of things many do not see as harmful. The most obvious is marijuana. However, the police also do not trust the public. They often do not act on public-supplied information. They have to see the bad conduct before they act.

We need to reset our expectations of the police, and of ourselves. I don’t have all the answers, but we need to align our laws with ordinary and relatively safe behavior. We need to stop pretending that passing a law changes behavior. We need to stop pretending that saying “you’re fired” to “bad apples” solves the problem of systemic racism, sexism or (prevalent in our area) expectations of behavior based on class. We can learn from these recent experiences and move to a social and law enforcement system that works. We have to.



Senseless killing and destruction

Members of our family have been privileged to travel to Minnesota’s Twin Cities for professional reasons on several occasions over the past three decades. It was our most visited location outside the Northeast and we found the people of that region warm and welcoming, regardless of race. Therefore, our sorrow was doubled to view the senseless death of George Floyd at the hands of rogue police, and shortly thereafter to view the senseless destruction of the cities. All I can say is that God grieved the killing of George Floyd, even as he grieves the deaths of the victims of COVID-19. Is God powerless to stop it? No, but he created human beings with free will to create or destroy. Any decent-minded human being could not help but be touched and want to protest such injustice, but that definition might not include those who crossed the line into looting, arson, and wanton destruction of life and property, and it certainly does not include those who would incite others to riot. The Minnesota governor and the Twin Cities mayors, all Democrats, are convinced that outside agitators are behind the most egregious behavior.

I have been criticized for suggesting that leftists would foment a crisis to devolve society, but I quote Rahm Emanuel, who said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The tactics of Saul Alinsky are in common use today all over America. Anarchists on both the extreme left and extreme right have no use for police, the vast majority of whom are conscientiously dedicated to serving and protecting and keeping our communities safe for those of every ethnicity. An undisguised blessing (no pun intended) is that few protesters wore masks, making it easier to identify perpetrators of violence. Unfortunately, relatively few practiced social distancing, so many could become infected and infect others.



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