Activism at the College, a history in many parts
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The afternoon of May 6, 1969 a group of about 40 students stormed the Parkhurst Administration building and forced everyone to leave. The students demanded the immediate abolition of Dartmouth Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, an end to military recruiting on campus and the replacement of ROTC scholarships with ones offered by the College. The students barricaded themselves inside the building for the rest of the night.
“The administration had had some indication that something like this might happen,” Anne Reed-Weston ’16, who studied Vietnam War protests at Dartmouth for the Dartmouth Vietnam Project, said.
The goal of the administration was to avoid the violence that had happened on other campuses. The administration obtained an injunction against the protesters. Then after negotiations with the police, the protesters agreed to vacate the building and face arrest. Almost all the protesters would end up with jail sentences and the College proceeded with its original plan to gradually phase-out ROTC, with the program temporarily ending in 1973.
But the Parkhurst occupation wasn’t just about a national issue. The occupation, like many instances of activism at Dartmouth before and after that afternoon in 1969, was motivated by tensions on campus.
“These episodes are never only about the external events,” history professor Edward Miller said.
In this case, former College President John Sloan Dickey was not sympathetic to the anti-war movement and to the campus activism of the late 1960s, Miller said.
Students today may think that Dartmouth’s campus climate has been unusually turbulent the past few years. However, Dartmouth has a rich history of activism, and of students changing, or preserving, the College’s character.
“Dartmouth has a reputation for being an unusually conservative campus,” Miller said. “However, since the 1960s, Dartmouth has a tradition of radical student activism which has been a very significant part of campus intellectual life and the campus culture.”
Vietnam War activism was common on Dartmouth’s campus in the late 60s and early 70s. At the forefront of student protests was the aforementioned opposition to the ROTC and its continued presence on Dartmouth’s campus.
“ROTC was a big deal at Dartmouth in the 1960s. Roughly a third of Dartmouth students in the early 1960s were in ROTC at some point,” Miller said.
ROTC was also a logical focus of Vietnam War activism at Dartmouth and nationwide.
“ROTC was an obvious target because ROTC was recruiting Dartmouth students to serve in the U.S. military, some of whom would go on to fight in the Vietnam War.” Miller says.
Dartmouth students and faculty voted in the spring of 1969 to phase out ROTC by only allowing students already enrolled in ROTC to continue with the program, according to Reed-Weston. Some students thought ROTC should not have any role in campus life, leading to the storming of Parkhurst.
A new administration under President John Kemeny dealt with later Vietnam War protests in a different way. As part of a nationwide student strike in May 1970, classes were cancelled for a week because of students protesting the United States’ actions in North Vietnam and neutral Cambodia.
“He actually facilitated the student protest and he made it clear that he was not interested in punishing or restraining students who wanted to speak out against the Vietnam War,” Miller said.
The Vietnam War was not the only issue that mobilized students at the time.
Between the early 1960s and the late 1960s, Dartmouth’s community reacted very differently to two speeches given by segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace in 1963 and 1967 at the College. In 1963, students laughed at the governor’s jokes and applauded him 27 times. Protest was limited to an orderly demonstration outside the Hopkins Center for the Arts and black armbands worn by faculty members.
In 1967, the reception was different. Wallace was heckled by students chanting, “Wallace is a racist.” Other students walked out of Webster Hall where the event took place. A group of students who attempted to rush the platform where Wallace was speaking. Other students surrounded and rocked Wallace’s car was surrounded and rocked by students. The eight chanters were members of a student group, the Afro-American Society, that would come to play an important role in change on campus.
Before the AAS’ foundation in 1966, national black leaders had visited campus, with Martin Luther King Jr. visiting Hanover in 1962 and Malcolm X in 1965. But a member of the Class of 1958 recalled how black students would “go their separate ways” before the AAS was created. Only 0.4 percent of students from 1962-1965 were black.
However, in the late 1960s, the AAS pushed the administration to do more to accommodate black students. In March 1969, the AAS presented the administration with a list of demands. The list included items that called for black students to make up 11 percent of the student body, a black admissions officer specifically to recruit more black students and the creation of an African-American studies major on campus.
From March to April 1969, the AAS worked with the administration to reach an agreement on many of their demands, without resorting to violence or even public demonstrations. The list of demands was a notable contrast to the dramatic yet futile effort of those who occupied Parkhurst in the very same spring protesting the Vietnam War.
The history of student activism at Dartmouth is often one of short, intense moments . In 1979, multiple controversies exploded in the same short period. Two students wearing war paint, feathers and loincloths skated on the ice at a hockey game, offending many Native American students. The black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha entered an ice sculpture called the South African Memorial Graveyard for Winter Carnival in 1979. The sculpture was then removed by College maintenance workers on orders to clean up the area, according to a Washington Post article.
On March 5, 1979, the AAS, along with Native Americans at Dartmouth and the Latino Forum, defaced another Winter Carnival sculpture with red and black paint, symbolizing the ignored presence of minority groups on campus. A rally was held by students and faculty on the Green protesting the treatment of minorities. The same day, the AAS had also presented their demands to the administration as they had a decade earlier. They called for an expansion of the Black Studies Program, more black faculty and administrators and increased admission of black students, especially women, among other requests.
NAD demanded, as their main short term goal, the removal of the Hovey Murals from the basement of a room in the Thayer School of Engineering dining hall, which stood where the Class of 1953 Commons is now. The murals depict the mythical founding of the College. They showed Eleazar Wheelock recruiting Native Americans with a large bottle of rum, with scenes including one of a Native American figure crawling out of the forest on hands and knees, lapping up the rum, and a Native American women reading a book upside down. In response, the College decided to cover the Hovey murals during most times of year. Then, on March 8, 1979 classes were cancelled to allow for a series of speakers to discuss recent events. The Hovey Murals still remain at the College to this day, in a closed room in the bottom level of ‘53 Commons.
As the events of 1979 gave way to a new decade, divestment became a new issue at the forefront of campus activism.
Divestment had long been an issue at Dartmouth. As early as 1967, the AAS protested Dartmouth’s $400,000 investment in Eastman Kodak, a photography company, when Kodak refused to hire black employees at a factory in Rochester, New York.
Divestment spurred a lot of activism in reaction to the College’s investments in apartheid South Africa.
In November 1985, student members of the Dartmouth Community for Divestment erected three mock shanties on the Green in protest of the College’s continued investment in American companies operating in South Africa. The investments targeted by activists made up $63.4 million out of Dartmouth’s then $414 million endowment.
“The DCD asked the administration ‘How can you simultaneously educate black South African students and contribute to the success of the apartheid regime?’” Tim Harrison ’16 said.
Harrison is writing a thesis on anti-apartheid activism at the College. Along with the shanties, hundreds of people participated in rallies held on the Green, according to Harrison. However, the controversy over the shanties intensified when a group of students attacked the shanties the morning of Jan. 21, 1986.
The attack served as a catalyst to involve the AAS in the divestment effort.
“The international black students and the African-American students never formed an alliance at Dartmouth [before the divestment campaign],” Harrison said. “This changed overnight on January 21, 1986 after the shanty attack because the attack happened in the early morning hours after the very first observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. To the leaders of the Afro-American Society it wasn’t a coincidence,” Harrison said.
The next day, on Jan. 22, 1986, 100 protesters held a sit-in in then President David McLaughlin’s office. Ten of the twelve students punished for the destruction of the shanties were members of the conservative student newspaper, The Dartmouth Review.
On April 11, 1986, 20 DCD members occupied Baker Tower in protest of what they saw as the lenient punishments the College gave to those who attacked the shanties.
The campaign for divestment was successful, with the College divesting by 1989. The campaign against divestment also contributed to the resignation of McLaughlin in late 1986, the same year as the shanty attack.
“He resigned because he lost the support of the faculty,” Harrison said. “Many of the faculty were keen for the administration to divest, and when the board and the president signaled explicitly to the contrary, it continued a process of very strong disaffection from the majority of the faculty with the president.”
The use of divestment as a goal of campus activism continued beyond apartheid. In 1992, 2,300 students signed a petition for the College to divest from Hydro-Quebec, a company building a dam that would have flooded an area the size of Vermont and displaced 10,000 people, mostly Cree Native Americans. The students argued it was hypocritical for the College to support its Native American and environmental studies programs while investing in the company building the dam.
Activism concerning Native American issues has spanned several decades at Dartmouth, especially since the decision in 1970 to reaffirm Dartmouth’s original commitment to Native American education, which was itself caused by Native activism nationwide.
“That’s an interesting commitment because it coincides with President Nixon’s announcement of a new Indian policy,” history and Native American studies professor Colin Calloway said. “There may not be many Native students on campus at the time but nationwide this is a time of tremendous social activism.”
However, the few Native students at Dartmouth also pushed for the renewed commitment.
“I think the Native students who were here, and there was a handful of them, are really pushing the College and reminding them that they should not be an anomaly,” he said.
Much of Native American activism since 1970 has been responsive, according to Calloway. It has often taken the form of protesting the use of the Indian symbol at Dartmouth and other actions seen as disrespectful to Native Americans.
“Time and again, our Native students have been called upon to educate the larger Dartmouth community on why this stuff matters and why this stuff is hurtful,” Calloway said.
The fall of 2006 was filled with controversial events targeted at Native Americans. Fraternity pledges disrupted a solemn drum circle marking Native American genocide on Columbus Day by clapping and mock dancing. It was alleged that a student sold t-shirts in the main dining hall for an upcoming football game saying “Holy Cross Sucks” and showing a Holy Cross crusader performing oral sex on a Native American. The crew team held a party called “Cowboys, Barnyard Animals and Indigenous People.” Amid these and other controversies, a college committee debated again whether the Hovey Murals should be covered. The Native American Council, a group consisting of members of NAD, the Native American Studies department, the Native American Program and college officials that met four times a term, took out a two-page advertisement in The Dartmouth aiming to highlight the controversies. The culmination of these events was an edition of The Dartmouth Review with a depiction of a Native American holding a scalp entitled “The Natives are Getting Restless!” In response, the next day, 500 students participated in a “Solidarity against Hatred” rally on the Green.
Activism hasn’t always been in the form of dramatic displays, such as the occupations of Parkhurst or rallies on the Green. Sometimes, campus activism has focused more on providing a space for new groups who become part of the Dartmouth community, such as women, who the College first admitted as full-time students in 1972.
“There was a contingent of men who were not happy to have women here,” Susan Ackerman ’80 now a religion professor at the College, said. “And they could be very vocal and in your face about it.”
In response, women seized on different methods of activism. For example, space in the Collis Center was designated as the Women’s Resource Center.
“It really was just a space for women to gather and have a space that felt safe and a place that a minority group, and we were a minority group on campus, could call our own,” Ackerman said.
However, some approaches were more confrontational.
“The most activist response I can remember was that there were some ‘Take Back the Night Marches’ that happened in the late 70s, a major target of where those marches went was down frat row,” Ackerman said.
Women also took the initiative to establish sororities, starting with Sigma Delta which was formed in the fall of 1976 and winter of 1977, with its first members joining in Spring 1977.
Activism at the College hasn’t always been to enact change. Sometimes, activists aim to preserve traditions on the campus.
The Dartmouth Review was founded in 1980 by Gregory Fossedal ’81, a conservative former editor of The Dartmouth. The newspaper focused on restoring what it saw as the worthwhile traditions of the College, be it a renewed focus on Western civilization in the curriculum, the return of Indian symbols, or the reinstatement of ROTC. The newspaper also stirred controversy soon after its inception.
It published a list of student officers in an organization called the Gay Student Alliance, when many of those officers had not come out to friends or family, in 1981, and an article critical of affirmative action entitled “This Sho Ain’t No Jive” in 1982, according to the memoirs of McLaughlin.
But, student activism in defense of tradition could have broader support than the often controversial Review.
In February 1999, after then-President James Wright and trustees announced the Student Life Initiative that would have put an end to the single-sex Greek system, the Coed Fraternity Sorority Council cancelled all Greek-sponsored Winter Carnival events. Instead of Carnival events, students held rallies at Psi Upsilon fraternity, replacing the traditional Keg Jump, and in front of the president’s house, 1,000 people protested. 83 percent of Dartmouth students supported the Greek system. The Student Life Initiative was not implemented in the end.
In recent years, activism at the College has used many of the same methods and tackle the same issues as activism of the past, while still bringing new issues and ideas to the foreground.
Here is a timeline of recent activism at the College:
- April 24, 2013: Classes are cancelled after protesters, organized as the group Real Talk, demonstrated at a Dimensions of Dartmouth show and subsequently received anonymous threats on the website Bored at Baker.
- April 25, 2013: Fifty students and faculty participate in a “Take Back the Night” march protesting sexual assault.
- May 23, 2013: Over 30 students and alumni file a Clery Act complaint against the College alleging Clery violations of sexual assault, hate crimes, bullying, hazing and LGBT, racial and religious discrimination.
- Feb. 10, 2014: Hundreds of students rally on the green against sexual assault after a student posted a step-by-step guide to assaulting a female member of the Class of 2017 on Bored at Baker.
- Feb. 24, 2014: A group of students release the “Freedom Budget,” an eight-page document outlining more than 70 demands to the administration concerning systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism and ableism.
- April 1, 2014: Students protesting the College’s response to the “Freedom Budget” occupy College President Phil Hanlon’s office for two days.
- May 1, 2015: 150 students march against police brutality and complicity and complacency at Dartmouth. The next day, 20 students protest outside Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity’s Pigstick party and Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority’s Derby event.
- Oct. 8, 2015: Over 20 students hold signs outside of a presentation titled “The College Rape Overcorrection,” featuring controversial Slate columnist Emily Yoffe, to express disagreement with her views.
- Oct. 12, 2015: Students tear down flyers encouraging students to celebrate Columbus Day with vintage Dartmouth Indian apparel that were hung all over campus the night before. The flyers were put up at the same time perspective Native students were on campus as part of the Native American Community program, formerly known as the Native American Fly-In Program. The posting of the flyers followed a demonstration on the Green by Native American students the day before. Groups all over campus expressed outrage at the flyers and support for the NAD community through campus emails.
- Nov. 12 2015: More than 150 students, staff and community members dressed in black and marched across campus in solidarity with the black communities of Yale University, the University of Missouri and the larger Black Lives Matter movement. While in Baker-Berry Library, some of the protesters allegedly directed profanities at students studying.
- February 2016: Student-run Divest Dartmouth has obtained 1,905 of the 2,000 desired signatures on a petition to the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, calling for the College to withdraw investments and endowments from the top 200 fossil fuel extraction companies, including BP and Chevron.