Wheeler: Change with Dartmouth Change

by Katie Wheeler | 8/5/13 10:00pm

In the past couple of days there has been much talk surrounding the stalled efforts of Dartmouth Change, a group of alumni and faculty promoting direct involvement in student life issues, to aid the College in implementing sexual assault prevention and education programs. Though Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson insists that the administration has been very proactive in considering and enacting a number of recommendations voiced by students, faculty and alumni ("Alumni seek proactive sexual assault policies," Aug. 2), members of Dartmouth Change are outraged at what they believe to be the administration's unreceptiveness, deliberate stagnation and lack of transparency.

Dartmouth Change has recommended establishing mandatory sexual assault education as well as the formation of a sexual violence prevention center to allow for the centralization of the College's services. The group has even offered to raise funds for the additional sexual assault programs that it would like to see on campus. Yet the administration seems rather eager to obstruct any further involvement of Dartmouth Change. Members point to long delays in communication, rescheduled meetings and exclusion from campus groups such as the Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault and the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability as blatant attempts to suppress their efforts.

Johnson has already rejected any ideas of fundraising, stating that the College has sufficient funds to implement the changes it deems necessary. She added that the administration has indeed taken into account some of Dartmouth Change's recommendations, which played a role in the relocation of the Sexual Assault Advisor Program to a more accessible building and the creation of prevention programs such as bystander intervention training. Johnson also reported that the administration is now considering a zero tolerance policy for perpetrators of sexual assault which, according to Dartmouth Change member Jim Reynolds, will be slowly implemented for fear of legal retaliation as well as an expansion of incoming student education programs.

I find Johnson's tacit acceptance of the remarkably slow progress in combating sexual assault troubling. The mere relocation of SAAP and the creation of DBI training, which, though compulsory for members of Greek organizations, amounts to an hour-long workshop that students do only once at Dartmouth, and is hardly a sufficient solution. Though the administration is making steps in the right direction, the severity of the problem of sexual assault calls for immediate, sweeping action. The mere "consideration" of a zero tolerance policy for perpetrators and an expansion of incoming student education programs is an insult to all victims of sexual assault, whose numbers are vastly underestimated, on this campus. The administration needs to show that they take this problem seriously and prioritize the safety of Dartmouth students. When members of this community violate the rights of others, especially in such a disgusting manner, they must not be merely put on probation or suspended. They are predators, and those who commit sexual assault once are extremely likely to reoffend, and should be removed from this campus.

Why not form an expanded and increasingly subsidized sexual violence prevention center and assemble a team of professionals whose job it is to improve campus culture and ensure students' safety, especially when alumni are offering to pay for it? Why not implement mandatory sexual assault education, designed and funded by this center, not only for incoming freshmen but also for upperclassmen and make it recurring and more rigorous? I would love to know why these initiatives are, as Johnson says, "not things we're inclined to do." Indeed, Dartmouth Change has been adamant in its demand for more transparency in the College's decisions regarding proposals submitted for review. There is no clarity in why certain things cannot be done. It is time for the administration to start providing answers.

Reynolds conveyed his frustration with the fact that Johnson remains certain that one cannot change campus culture overnight. Why is the administration so eager to accept the status quo? Will we ever know the power of these changes if we do not try to implement them? Programs as they are now are just not cutting it, not by a long shot. The College needs to show that it is taking the vicious and prevalent crime of sexual assault seriously. That starts with listening to the very practical ideas of a potentially powerful group like Dartmouth Change.