A Question of Momentum

by John Strayer | 3/25/96 6:00am

A new term and a fresh start: one of the advantages of Dartmouth's quick paced, 10 week at a time system. Certainly I am grateful that as far as my Spring term professors are concerned I have perfect attendance ... so far.

But our crazy D-Plan system of institutionalized insecurity also has significant downsides.

In light of the tumultuous events of last term we should note how difficult it is to carry the momentum of discussion from one term to the next.

We wonder why change comes so slow at Dartmouth?

As winter becomes spring nearly 1000 students trade places. Those who return to Hanover have little idea what went on last term, while among those who leave are many of the students who were most involved with the debates of the winter.

While this fact raises numerous difficulties in itself, movement toward constructive discussion is further hampered by the way the debates are framed in the first place.

Last term's flyer entitled "The Shit You Don't Hear About," brought attention to instances of sexism and racism on campus; a spotlight was focused on the sorts of obnoxious nonsense that everyone knows about, but no one talks about, at least not outside the buttressed walls of "the house" or the comfortable confines of "the clique."

This, of course, prompted the well honed methods of damage control befitting a college filled with future employees of consulting firms. I like to call these tactics "divide and railroad." These tactics take advantage of the disjointed nature of life at Dartmouth.

First, "divide" responsibility. Oh yes, these were heinous actions, but one "brother" who suggests that women are sexual objects to be conquered is but one individual, committing an individual act.

Certainly these sorts of attitudes aren't even subtly encouraged or condoned. In fact, we poured beer on the "brother" to prove it.

What's that? At another house, in another performance women were never referred to as such, but only as "grimbo," "victim," "snatch," and "whore?" Man, another bad apple who needs a bath -- want to borrow some beer?

This tactic of "individualizing" the problem works in perfect harmony with the D-Plan. Each offensive event is carefully cordoned off into the term it surfaces. The "Beta Poem" was the issue of the summer, while the "Alpha Chi Pledge Skit" is an event of the winter.

"John, you really must stop whining about the issues of the summer or the winter, it's so passe." Such neat mental partitions prevent us from recognizing the patterns of behavior these events reflect.

Then comes the "railroading." Racism, sexism, blah, blah, blah, let's talk about those cowards who wrote the flyer! Their Unabomber-like tactics have several brothers huddled under their desks in the fetal position, crying over the egregious (if true) assaults on our character. If they don't name themselves, how can we threaten them with lawsuits filed by our lawyer fathers?

It is nearly impossible to get people off the railroad and on to the real issues within the 10-week time limit. Especially in this case where anonymity is a real, if misdirected issue. It takes time to convince people that while unnamed attacks are a problem, the real questions should be "Why did the women involved feel such pressure to remain anonymous?" and "Whoever they are, what about the issues they raise?"

Additionally the D-Plan also complicates the roadblocks to intelligent discourse raised by the accusers. While the attacked err on the side of individual responsibility, there exists an element among the concerned who insist on attacking a straw man which exaggerates the systematic aspects of the problem.

Members of the "Frats Rape" crowd are fueled by the very real fact that men on this campus are disturbingly good at targeting the women who are least likely to raise a fuss. But they insult the average fraternity member as they seem to suspect "brothers" of secret meetings where they chug beer and plot rape strategy.

They also fail to recognize that sororities are part of the problem and that similar problems exist outside the Greek system.

The "it's all your fault" approach only serves to put men on the defensive, closing their minds to possible change in the process. Things quickly degrade into unproductive name-calling.

Again, more than 10 weeks is needed to realize that change is only possible when we understand that the problem is subtle, not generally created by conscious beliefs, but rather woven through the songs, rituals, traditions, and attitudes which develop among sisterless brothers and brotherless sisters in organizations specifically divided along the lines of sex.

Toward the end of Winter term discussion did move past the spin doctoring and the name-calling. But finals and Spring Break ended this evolution toward intelligence.

Can we carry the momentum of Winter into the Spring? It will take a concerted effort. I certainly haven't forgotten, but right now I really should be getting to class. I don't want to ruin my perfect attendance already.

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