Fishbein: Ditch The Dartmouth

To find open discourse, students must listen to marginalized voices.

by Daniel Fishbein | 2/8/18 12:30am

Ryan Spector ’19’s Feb. 2 guest column titled “You’re Not Tripping” seems to me, and many others, to be a violent attack against women and women of color. Fortunately, the Dartmouth community has responded; several organizations — 40 at the time of publication — have voiced their support for the members of the Trips directorate. Those mentioned in Spector’s column and those who went out of their way to support them make this community strong.

Editor-in-chief Ray Lu ’18, executive editors Kourtney Kawano ’18 and Erin Lee ’18 and opinion editors Parker Richards ’18 and Ziqin Yuan ’18 state that the The Dartmouth’s reason for keeping the article online is to “advance open discourse within the community.” They fail to acknowledge that the openness of the pages of The Dartmouth can only go so far as the openness of the College’s own heavily guarded gates.

Dartmouth does not exist in a bubble, though people often might imagine it to. Perhaps the source of this belief lies in the College’s admissions practices that enable it to maintain its elitist Ivy League ethos. In a study by The New York Times on students from the Class of 2013, the median family income of a Dartmouth student was $200,400; 69 percent of students came from families in the top 20 percent of income while only 2.6 percent of Dartmouth students came from families in the bottom 20 percent. From a socioeconomic standpoint, Dartmouth College does not accurately represent America’s broader society. Any discourse that takes place on campus therefore has inherent limits.

To be fair, Spector does not mention the socioeconomic status of the Trips directorate. Yet personal identities, such as gender, sexuality, race and socioeconomic status, do not exist in a vacuum. Intersectionality, a social theory that describes the complex interactions between and among identities, posits that oppression operates systematically. An individual who faces bigotry due to one identity may also face a different form of bigotry due to another. These two forms of bigotry work in tandem to produce a greater degree of harm to individuals than either would in isolation. Spector’s column has the potential to cause harm to women and people of color. Looking at the guest column through the lens of intersectionality, this harm can be intensified for women and people of color who possess another marginalized identity, such as low socioeconomic status.

At a school that routinely benefits the privileged, those who are the most marginalized at best go largely unnoticed by the collective student body and at worst face unprovoked attacks. The Dartmouth’s guest column contributes to this erasure and vilification. Though 19 of the 36 members of the opinion staff are women and 16 are people of color, the paper and many organizations at Dartmouth may inherently have structural barriers to those coming from a lower socioeconomic background and other marginalized identity groups.

As someone who attended an upper-middle-class high school, I had the opportunity to join and later serve as the editor of my student newspaper. I understand that this opportunity is a privilege not afforded to everyone. In fact, a 2011 study found that only two-thirds of public high schools across the country had student newspapers and low-income schools were less likely to have student newspapers. The Dartmouth has enabled me to pursue my interest in journalism as a college student. This interest might not have developed among my less privileged classmates who, through no choice of their own, lack previous exposure to the field.

My socioeconomic status affords me the ability to devote a portion of my time to writing for The Dartmouth without receiving compensation for my work, time that students with less privilege have to spend working a job. The Dartmouth grants a limited number of work-study stipends to its staff as part of a financial aid program, and those who wish to secure one of these stipends must demonstrate that they have already made and will continue to make a substantial commitment to the newspaper. Students marginalized for reasons other than low socioeconomic status might face different barriers. Perhaps an immigrant who feels threatened by the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration prefers to go under the radar rather than speak out and risk having a classmate threaten to call U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on them. Perhaps queer students fear a homophobic response for speaking out against a heteronormative campus culture. The editors of The Dartmouth may try to assure the safety of marginalized student contributors, but marginalized students, given the trials and tribulations they already undergo both at Dartmouth and beyond, may not feel that they can withstand additional scrutiny like that which Spector may have anticipated yet had the privilege ­to prepare for when writing his op-ed.

In order to achieve its lofty — and worthy — ideal of advancing open discourse, The Dartmouth must recognize and work to address its own closed doors. The Dartmouth demonstrated its capacity to function as a platform for inclusivity when it published Jessica Cantos ’18’s guest column rejecting the 2017 Homecoming bonfire because of the College’s legacy of violence. Beyond this action, The Dartmouth must prioritize diversity in its application process and bring more of those with the most marginalized voices on campus onto its staff. It must continue to offer financial aid to help staff members from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds to secure editorial positions. It must not view itself as having achieved this goal of advancing open discourse when it prints the controversial viewpoint of a student from one of the most overrepresented identity groups on campus.

Change to The Dartmouth will come slowly if it comes at all. In the meantime, conscientious readers must look elsewhere for truly open discourse. They could attend a training session at the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, get involved with a campus activism group or take a class in the geography, African and African American Studies or Native American Studies departments that focuses on the study of social justice. The Dartmouth might fail to accurately represent the voices of the most marginalized in its pages due to deeply embedded institutional issues. This does not mean that those voices do not exist. Go find them. Listen.