Hare Krishna visit stirs controversy
A "cultural exhibition" hosted by Alpha Theta coed fraternity last Friday night raised concern among some members of the administration.
The exhibition, which primarily involved a presentation by members of the Hare Krishna temple of Boston, was attended by approximately 80 students, according to Samson Popowitz '97, Alpha Theta's president.
The program began with a the presentation, followed by a concert by a Hare Krishna punk-rock band, Gandiva. The group also spent the night at Alpha Theta and left Saturday morning.
However, some administrators felt the reputation of groups such as the Hare Krishnas warranted concern.
"They look for members who are vulnerable and convince them that their way of life is the only one," said Linda Kennedy, Programming Coordinator at the Student Activities Office. "It is far different talking to someone at an airport and to spend 24 hours with them."
In an electronic mail message forwarded to The Dartmouth by Popowitz, Kennedy wrote: "The type of visit you have planned sounds entirely pro-Hare Krishna and I have extremely grave reservations about the danger for students. What is advertised is essentially an immersion program."
Kennedy said her reservations were based on previous knowledge of "immersion" efforts at other colleges. "All colleges have had experiences with groups like the Hare Krishnas. Some people call them a cult, so we wanted to be careful ... in the 70s, this was serious stuff," Kennedy said.
Kennedy learned about the incident when Alpha Theta's programming chair, Audra Rudys '95, requested that she post an e-mail bulletin about the program. Kennedy then voiced her concerns about the event to Dean of Residential Life, Mary Turco.
Turco could not be reached for comment.
According to Popowitz, College Chaplain Gwendolyn King also expressed concern over the Hare Krishna visit. However, King refused to comment on the situation, stating only that "I did what I needed to. I spoke to the people at Alpha Theta."
Popowitz said that King informed him the Hare Krishnas had an "irreputable past" and that the house should be wary of any conversion efforts.
The house took the administration's precautions and circulated Kennedy's warning message to all students in attendance, Popowitz said. "I explained to them beforehand that they were not to try to get members here, and merely try to inform the students ... there was no way that they had any 'enchanting, seductive' power over us," Popowitz wrote in an e-mail message.
Many students in attendance also said they felt the presentation by the group was constructive as it sparked debate between the students and members of the Hare Krishnas. "Some people found it extremely fun to argue with them and point out flaws in their theology," Popowitz said.
"I think the students who attended genuinely wanted to know more about a different set of beliefs and a different type of life-style," David Weinberg '96, one of the members of the audience, said.
"There was nothing forceful about their presence," Ashish Kapoor '97 said. "They were just trying to educate people and the audience response ranged from serious to completely facetious."
"Most people were waiting for the band, anyway," Kapoor said.