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An Open Letter to the Dartmouth Community

Recently, the 206th Alumni Council met at Dartmouth College for the annual Spring Meeting where they discussed recent campus protests. According to The Dartmouth's coverage of the event, Alumni Association president John Daukas ’84 assured alumni that only "a very small subset" of students were dissatisfied with the status quo on campus. He urged participants not to “make 98 percent of the students unhappy in order to make a couple of students happy." This point of view sadly misconstrues the reality of life on campus for too many students -- students who continually struggle against the normative culture of Dartmouth and its long tradition of silencing and shaming voices of opposition. 

Soon thereafter, students from six campuses, including Dartmouth College, hosted a press conference in New York City to announce the simultaneous filing of Clery complaints. The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act is a federal statute requiring colleges and universities that receive federal funding to maintain and disclose campus crime statistics and security information. 

While this press conference points to a pervasive problem across many college campuses, as alumni of Dartmouth College, we stand in support of the RealTalk Dartmouth movement and express our hope that real change will be the result of their efforts. We agree that the decision to file a Clery Act complaint can represent a step towards tangible and sustainable solutions in the fight for greater inclusiveness on Dartmouth’s campus.

Thus far, the RealTalk movement has succeeded in bringing media attention to a continued culture of apathy -- and for some, fear -- on campus. We support their demands for structural changes to the Dartmouth College status quo, in order to effectively redress inadequate administrative responses to episodes of physical, social, and sexual violence. It is very clear that “business as usual” will only continue to damage the reputation of what is a fine academic institution with a strong and vital community. Most importantly, continued neglect of these deep and pervasive issues will lead to more suffering on the part of current and future students. 

This letter of support is signed by alumni who participated in student activism across a wide span of years at Dartmouth, and certain characteristics of our time on campus are strikingly similar: 

A lack of meaningful action on the part of the administration and Trustees. While we were all grateful to have cultivated strong relationships with sympathetic individual administrators, struggles at Dartmouth have continued because of a cycle of silencing or burying complaints and allegations by the upper echelons of the administration. One only needs to look as far as the time-honored resistance to enforcing anti-hazing regulations to reign in Dartmouth’s long-standing and troubling tradition of hazing. The organizers of RealTalk Dartmouth have described “the climate of hostility and silence on Dartmouth campus.” Inaction on the part of administrators and Trustees has compounded this perception.

Backlash against student protests. There is a long history of activism at Dartmouth, particularly around issues of diversity and student affairs. There is just as long a history of ugly backlash against vocal students who coalesce around conflicts related to racism, classism, and heterosexism. This occurred during the protests to divest the apartheid regime in South Africa in the 1980s; protests against offensively-themed fraternity parties, from “ghetto party” to the Luau in the 1990s; “anti-Greek” protests in response to the failed 1999 Student Life Initiative; and at other times throughout Dartmouth’s past. Dartmouth College has been accused of being a culturally-insensitive campus for decades in part because these student protesters have been harassed, ostracized, and intimidated. A long trail of evidence supports this, and yet the trend continues; the now-infamous messages posted to the Bored@Baker blog in the wake of the Dimensions protest suggest that students are eager to and freely express inappropriate and threatening sentiments towards other students in retaliation for speaking out.

Continued tensions around issues related to inclusivity. For years, the defenders of the status quo have sought to marginalize the voices of student protesters by arguing that to critique the current state of affairs is to be a traitor to the Dartmouth community. We believe that demanding change is equally a part of the heralded Dartmouth tradition, and we praise the current students for confronting ostracizing tactics and aggressive backlash. (In fact, it is heartening to witness this new generation of student activists utilizing social media to connect to campuses across the nation-- from Cooper Union to Williams College to UC San Diego.) As alumni, we are accustomed to contradictions endemic to Dartmouth: the ideal (which lives in the nostalgic memory of some alums) versus the reality of daily life as experienced by many Dartmouth students. On campus, that reality can be alienating and disillusioning.

Community building has to support all points of view, and the past decades of turmoil on campus suggest that Dartmouth has not yet evolved into a campus that upholds that mission. For four years, students literally live, eat, breathe, and study with people who have different backgrounds, ideas, pasts, and futures. We would argue that it is among the responsibilities of institutions of higher education to work through the tensions and complications (and yes, the discrimination and oppressions) that exist in the "contact zones" of cultures. 

To the students involved in this essential wave of Dartmouth activism, we take heart and inspiration from your bravery and redouble our own efforts to create a better world wherever we are.  We also look forward to watching you improve the world beyond Dartmouth in the years to come.

To the administration and the Trustees, we want you to understand that the concerns raised here have been endemic to Dartmouth as an institution for a long time.  It is incumbent on you to address these problems without punishing the activists who have bravely raised these issues.  These students are participating in a time-honored tradition of taking bold action to raise awareness about important issues, and that tradition--and its value--should not be ignored, misconstrued, or subject to violent backlash. You have the power and opportunity to do what administrators and Trustees before you have failed to do in the past: make Dartmouth an institution that welcomes and values all of its students, not just the privileged few.

Signed,

Shilyh Warren

This petition closed almost 2 years ago

How this will help

Meaningful action on the part of the administration and the Trustees is long overdue on issues of sexual assault, homophobia, and racism on campus.

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