Women achieved many gains at College in late 1980s

by Katie Uhre | 11/19/97 6:00am

When the crowd gathered before the Homecoming bonfire in 1986 to sing the College's alma mater, "Men of Dartmouth," 12 undergraduates were ready to protest the exclusion of women from the school song.

Having decided enough was enough, the students dumped what looked like bloodied tampons on the grass near the podium where College President David T. McLaughlin was sitting. The next day a group calling itself "the womben to overthrow dartmyth" claimed responsibility for the incident.

The song "Dartmouth Undying" had been amended to include women in 1972, but "Men of Dartmouth" remained in its original form even after 14 years of coeducation. Within one year of the tampon incident, the song would be revised.

Such changes were typical of the Dartmouth of the late 1980s. Women were gaining more influence and resources every day. After spending several years adapting to Dartmouth, women were now adapting Dartmouth to coeducation.

The changes came fast and furious.

The Women's Resource Center was established, and the Women's Studies Program was made permanent. College President James Freedman announced his unquestioned commitment to gender parity in the student population, and several sororities were founded to give women a greater hand in the College's social options.

Women felt less and less like unwelcome guests as resources for women expanded. Great gains were made by women between 1985 and 1990, but many felt that one aspect of campus life -- the Greek system -- lagged behind in gender equity.

The sorority system

By the mid-1980s, sororities and females in senior societies were nothing new.

Sigma Kappa, the first sorority, had been founded in 1977, and a year later Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority came to the College. In 1981, Alpha Chi Omega was founded at Dartmouth, and Kappa Alpha Theta became the fourth sorority later that year.

In addition, Casque and Gauntlet senior society went co-ed in 1978 and Cobra was founded as the first all-female senior society.

The existence of a sorority system gave women the opportunity to have "female space," but equity in the Coed Fraternity and Sorority system was slower coming. Greeks were a major target of the protests against sexism, and it was through the fraternities and sororities that gender issues were most vocally debated.

One of the first shots in the Greek gender wars was fired in April 1986, when a group of men tried to take part in sorority rush. The men said that sororities had failed to provide a meaningful alternative to the fraternity system's "oppression in the forms of homophobia, sexism, elitism and racism." By rushing, the men hoped to expose that sororities were part of the problem too.

Sean O'Hearn '86, one of the men who tried to go through sorority rush, said that "sororities legitimize fraternities, which promote sexism." Some members of the Women's Issue League student group agreed that sororities reinforced female subservience to men.

Inspired by their male counterparts, a group of female students decided they would try to rush a number of fraternities, while the Women's Issues League considered but ultimately rejected a plan to bring lawsuits against fraternities for sexual discrimination.

The real motivation for the "cross rushing" was to publicly point out what the groups saw as the inadequacies of the Greek system and to inspire dialogue on ways to improve it.

The presidents of all the fraternities met to discuss ways to deal with women who attempted to join fraternity rush. Most of the fraternities decided women would be allowed to stay as long as they were not disruptive.

But not all the houses went along with the plan. Sigma Nu President Peter Young '87 called campus police to have female rushees removed.

Carolynne Krusi, then an assistant dean of residential life, said the stunt was an effective way to draw attention to the issue.

"I feel it was certainly a political statement. My sense was that their attempt was to draw attention to the fact that there are organizations at the College that do exclude on the basis of sex," she said. "It got a lot of people talking and discussing the issue."

But some could not understand what all the fuss was about.

In an opinion piece in The Dartmouth, Paul Hochman '86 wrote that "accusing fraternities of sexism is like accusing an alarm clock of waking you up: that's the whole idea."

"Of course fraternities and sororities are sexist, discriminating against members of the opposite sex by not allowing them admission. But dismantling this type of institution would simply replace one discriminatory practice with another: keeping people from making their own choices," Hochman wrote.

The debate over fraternity and sorority sexism raised questions about the very nature of the rush process itself.

The College administration and Panhell tried to make changes to sorority rush, in order to turn the sororities more into a unified system and less a collection of individual houses.

Panhell Vice President Nancy Stein '86 commented that the changes were made "to stress the fact that you're rushing the Panhell system, not just a sorority that won't have anything to do with Dartmouth."

The Women's Resource Center

When Sigma Kappa was first founded in 1977, its president, Leslie Mandel '79 told The Dartmouth, "the purpose of a sorority at Dartmouth will be to get the girls together and not to be the socialites on campus. It will allow for comradeship, something I, as well as others, feel is lacking on this campus."

Yet many women felt the sorority system alone was not adequate space for women.

One result of this dialogue was a decision by the administration to create a Women's Support Task Force to review the status of women at Dartmouth.

The report issued by the task force offered a detailed assessment of sexism and the condition of women at the College.

French and Italian Professor Marianne Hirsch said that alcohol abuse, sexual harassment and the existence of objectifying newsletters within houses were evidence of hostility towards women in the fraternity system.

The report found that many women said that they do not feel safe at Dartmouth, due in part to sexist graffiti, obscene phone calls and offensive actions by men.

Perhaps the most concrete recommendation in the report was for an easily accessible center to serve all women in the Dartmouth community -- undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, administrators, staff and service personnel-- and which would include men in the programming of the center.

The report specified that the new women's center should address the needs and concerns of women at the College -- specifically focusing on counseling and health, culture and education, and information and support services.

Thus the Women's Resource Center was born in 1987, but only after much heated debate over whether it was a needed expense. Much of the debate revolved around whether the new center should serve only the needs of women.

Critics of the center argued that if the College planned to open a women's resource center, then it should also open a men's resource center. Many women responded: Dartmouth itself was a men's resource center.

Dartmouth became the last Ivy League school to designate such a place for women on campus.

During the beginning years of the Women's Resource Center there were differing ideas about its goals and uses. Judith White, the first WRC director, believed the center should serve as more than just as an emergency crisis center.

One concern was that the WRC would be perceived as too feminist, especially since there was talk of affiliating it with the leftist Women's Issue League.

But White disagreed, saying that the center would not be a central meeting place for any one group on campus. The Women's Issue League kept a separate office in Robinson Hall to avoid the perception of a union with the WRC.

Towards gender parity

In the fall of 1987, recently inaugurated College President James O. Freedman listed gender parity as one of his top priorities.

Freedman's very public support for a 50 percent female student population convinced many high school women that Dartmouth was becoming less of a bastion of manhood. Among applicants for the incoming class, female applicants increased 13 percent from the previous year.

The administration's efforts to convince women to attend the College once they were accepted went beyond words -- they were put into action. The admissions office introduced new recruitment methods.

The admissions office used a phone-a-thon to contact all admitted students to combat the negative publicity generated by a dispute between Music Professor William Cole and The Dartmouth Review, the off-campus conservative weekly.

The main goal of the project, according to student coordinator Cynthia Marshall '88, was to encourage admitted women to visit the College. The admissions office invited all undergraduate women to participate in the phone-a-thon and asked that they volunteer to host prospective women.

During the "Experience Dartmouth" program -- aimed to introduce high school students to the College -- special receptions were scheduled so high school girls could meet women representing various student organizations on campus.

Women's issues in the classroom

The increased attention to women's issues was reflected not only in the admissions office, but also in the curriculum. Dartmouth's women's studies program was the first in the Ivy League.

The women's studies program, which began on a trial basis in 1977, was made permanent in June 1985 after undergoing an extensive evaluation.

The evaluation committee included two Dartmouth faculty members -- English Chair Peter Saccio and Council for Special Programs Chair Greg Prince -- and three outside experts in the field of women's studies.

The committee's report praised the faculty as well as the courses in the women's studies program. Saccio said "the external committee agreed emphatically that the program should become permanent."

An integral part of the review of the women's studies program was an analysis of the more general role of women on campus.

Hirsch noted that the attitude toward women at the College had improved since the first review of the program five years before. The report cited the dramatic increase of participation by faculty and students -- both male and female.

But the news was not all good. According to the report, the women's studies program "continues to experience negative publicity and harassment."

Some students enrolled in Women's Studies courses reported that they have been ridiculed by their peers. History Professor Mary Kelley defended the program.

She said women's studies courses are "often misperceived because they are seen by some as non-academic and because there is a misunderstanding of feminism."

Jessica Murray '86 said that everyone, male or female, could learn from women's studies, especially since "at a place like Dartmouth where traditions tend to be engrained, women's studies can make us think about traditions that maybe aren't so good."

There were other academic efforts focused upon the advancement of women.

The College, in conjunction with the Thayer School of Engineering, created the "Women in Science Project" in the fall of 1990. The program was created to support women -- a large minority in science -- and to encouragemore of them to pursue studies in the natural sciences.

A lyric dispute

Although the growth of the sorority system, the creation of the women's resource center and the creation of women's studies were important strides for women, it was the little things that were sometimes most important.

The changing of the school song's lyrics to include "the daughters of Dartmouth" showed how far women had come. But the lyrics were not changed without a fight.

The battle over the alma mater began during the moratorium on classes that followed the destruction of the anti-apartheid shanties on the Green on Jan. 21, 1986. The shanties had been smashed by a dozen or so students -- many of whom wrote for The Dartmouth Review -- calling themselves "The Dartmouth Committee to Beautify the Green Before Winter Carnival."

One of the recommendations that arose from the discussions at the time was that the College needed to adopt a different alma mater.

In May 1986 the President's ad hoc Council on Diversity concluded that the "general resentment" among some women toward the song should be addressed "through modification of the present language and/or the creation of wholly new verses to replace the old ones; through the substitution of another traditional Dartmouth song that is not sex-specific, or through the creation of a wholly new song."

During the 1986 Convocation ceremony, President David McLaughlin gave impetus to the growing movement against the old lyrics by announcing that he was in favor of changing the song to include the entire community. McLaughlin asked the Student Assembly and the Alumni Council to work together in formulating a recommendation.

But change did not come quickly enough to accommodate the "womben to overthrow dartmyth," who used their bloodied tampon demonstration on Homecoming weekend to shock the College into action. A statement by the group said, "We are distributing bloodied tampons in protest of both the alma mater 'Men of Dartmouth' and the governing structures of dartmyth college."

The group went on to charge that all decisions at the College were made by "white capitalist men," and that since conventional channels of negotiation have failed thus far they "refuse to use the channels any longer."

Debate continued throughout the ensuing months until the Student Assembly committee on the alma mater submitted a report to McLaughlin in March 1987 that urged the commissioning of a new song "to reflect the modern Dartmouth."

If the College failed to embrace an acceptable alma mater within two years, the committee recommended modifying the lyrics of the current alma mater.

The committee's report followed a March 1987 student poll on the alma mater, which revealed that 61 percent of the 2,218 students surveyed opposed any changes to "Men at Dartmouth." But 55 percent of the women respondents thought changes should be made.

The changes to the song were made in the fall of 1987 by an advisory committee of 12 men and five women.

Student and alumni reaction to the new version were mixed.

"I personally sing the new version," Michelle Turner '90 said, "But I don't think a lot of people are singing it."

Henry Todd '90, on the other hand, said "The new one is ridiculous because I think that the word 'man' is supposed to represent mankind," not just one gender.

Support for the new version of the alma mater would mount in coming years. It was during the 1990s that the "daughters of Dartmouth" would at long last be on equal footing with their brothers.