Racial slur and bias incidents reported on student doors

by Eileen Brady | 10/18/18 3:00am

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by Michael Lin / The Dartmouth

It was 5 a.m. on Sept. 18 when Sai Davuluri ’21 and Tyler Fagler ’20 noticed the racial slur “ch—” written on the door of a Chinese student on the fourth floor of McLane Hall.

The pair were awake to go to conditioning practice for the baseball team. When they came back to their room later that morning, all traces of the vandalism were gone.

The vandalism was one of multiple similar bias incidents that happened that morning, according to assistant director of residential education for West House Ted Stratton.

Less than four weeks later, three more similar incidents were reported in School House, in Hitchcock Hall, Mid Massachusetts Hall and North Massachusetts Hall. While the incident in Hitchcock Hall was recorded as a bias incident, the others were not, according to an email sent to School House residents by assistant director Joseph Brenckle and house professor Craig Sutton.

Isabelle Chung ’19 observed the biased vandalism on her door in Hitchcock Hall. The writing included the name of another Asian student next to a heart. Four days later, Chung is still waiting for someone to help her wash the remnants of the graffiti off of her dorm room door. The pen was probably permanent marker, Chung said.

The day after the vandalism in McLane Hall, Stratton and West House professor Ryan Hickox emailed some members of the house community about the bias incident. The house community also held a “community gathering” that two students attended. School House held a similar meeting on Oct. 16, which eight members attended.

Nevertheless, 13 students living on the fourth floor of McLane Hall and the connected Fahey Hall reached by The Dartmouth said they did not know the details of the bias incident in West House.

Though Chung first noticed the graffiti on her door on Saturday afternoon, she did not report it to her undergraduate advisor until Sunday, she said. Prior to reporting the incident, she said she tried to forget about the writing and give whoever wrote it “the benefit of the doubt.”

Chung added that she did not fully acknowledge the racist nature of the writing until she heard about similar occurrences targeted at other students.

“When I heard that this was not an isolated incident, I realized that this is not a coincidence,” Chung said. “This is not a joke.”

She then reported the graffiti to her undergraduate advisor, who spoke with the Department of Safety and Security. Chung said that in a follow-up communication with Safety and Security, the officer with whom she was speaking admitted to having previously confused Chung’s case with another case the department was handling.

Chung said she was disappointed with aspects of her UGA’s response. When she asked her UGA to have a follow-up conversation about the incident, the UGA spoke to the School House assistant director who ultimately directed Chung to the community meeting, she said.

Associate dean of residential life and director of residential education Mike Wooten said that training UGAs to handle incidents like these is a priority.

“[In UGA training,] we think a lot about the particular ways in which we ask them to report things, and that is a big part of the work that we do, making sure the right people have the information and being part of a larger network of care,” he said. “I think they did a pretty good job [in reaction to the bias incident].”

The Sept. 18 West House incident was also reported to a UGA and to Safety and Security, according to Stratton. The Bias Incident Response Team was also notified of both incidents and involved in the College’s response, according Wooten, who serves on the response team.

Stratton said he first learned of the West House incident at around 4 p.m. on Sept. 18 from a UGA who had been contacted by a resident about the incident. Hickox and Stratton then worked together to draft an email to West House residents expressing concern about the situation, publicizing available resources and encouraging students to come forward with additional information. Their intention was to notify students of resources and encourage them to contact Safety and Security should they have additional information.

The email was sent out to residents at 8:24 p.m. on Sept. 18, roughly 15 hours after Davuluri and Fagler first noticed the vandalism.

“We are very concerned about this behavior occurring on our campus, in West House, and in our residence hall,” Hickox and Stratton wrote in the email. “Derogatory and biased behavior has no place in our community, and violates the standards and values of the College.”

The pair pointed students to resources including UGAs, deans, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, counselors in the College Health Service and Stratton himself. The email sent by Brenckle and Stratton after the School House incidents gave students similar information and encouraged them to contact the same four resources.

Both house communities hosted gatherings soon after the incidents and invited students to come to ask questions or show support.

“We encourage you to come if you have any questions, want to show support for those affected by this behavior, or would benefit from gathering with some fellow community members,” Brenckle and Sutton wrote.

Two students attended the West House meeting on Sept. 20, according to Stratton. Wooten said that eight students attended the School House meeting on Oct. 16.

“At the meeting, we just let the students talk,” Stratton said. “We listened to the students’ different feelings and experiences at Dartmouth. There was no formal agenda.”

Hickox, Stratton and Wooten all attended the West House meeting. The aforementioned three, along with Sutton, Brenckle and deputy director of residential education Jeffrey DeWitt attended the School House meeting.

Wooten said he trusted Safety and Security to determine whether these events constitute a pattern.

“It would be impossible to not see any pattern of anything on our campus that’s impacting our students, that’s hurtful, that’s hateful, and not think, ‘Oh my word, what’s going on?’” he said.

Chair of the West House executive board Ryan Monasch ’19 added that regardless of who vandalized the doors, he wants to make sure that everyone sees West House as an inclusive community. The West House executive board is considering hosting discussions about social understanding and social issues, he said.

Stratton said that even in light of the incident, the sense of community in West House persists.

“Even in speaking with the impacted student, the student was confident that they didn’t think it was a member of the floor or probably even the house community, because they had a really good rapport with their neighbors,” he said.

Nathan Camilo ’21, a member of West House, emphasized that he believes the College has room for improvement.

“I think [this incident] is just yet another example of why many people of color and other marginalized communities feel unsafe and unwelcome on this campus,” Camilo said. “I don’t think Dartmouth does enough to address these types of issues. I think Dartmouth needs to make it clear that these types of incidents are disgusting and won’t be tolerated.”

Wooten said that Dartmouth does prioritize resolving bias incidents.

“These are things that we take extremely seriously, as you’d expect,” Wooten said. “All the College’s resources are coming to bear on trying to figure out how to proceed.”

Hickcox declined to comment. Safety and Security director Keysi Montás was not available for comment by press time. Sutton did not respond to requests for comment by press time. Brenckle, assistant dean and pan-Asian student advisor Shiella Cervantes and assistant dean of pluralism and leadership Sebastian Muñoz-Medina declined to add to Wooten’s statement.