We Challenge the Community

by Elise T. Ahyi | 5/25/01 5:00am

To the Editor:

In the thirteen years that span our collective Dartmouth experiences, we have related to the College as students, employees, and alumni. We have been fervent advocates of fulfilling the potential that Dartmouth has yet to realize in its commitment to a diverse community. Each one of us has rallied, spoken out, sat-in, sat-on, facilitated, debated, planned, traveled, written, cried, fought, and sacrificed to push Dartmouth closer to its ideal. We are writing this letter to challenge the entire Dartmouth community to actively participate in the strengthening of our community. While we recognize the College's progress over the years and President Wright's personal commitment to diversity, we want to encourage the President and the Board of Trustees to intentionally address issues of diversity, equity, honesty, and fairness with renewed focus and visible leadership " to move to a habit of praxis that clearly defines commitment, diversity, and community in ways that can be visibly integrated into every aspect of life and decision making at Dartmouth, at all levels.

In response to the recent articles and op-ed letters regarding the Admissions Office, we are also writing to urge the Dartmouth community to take a step back and examine the larger issue of diversity within our community. Moving past specific allegations and personal criticisms, we urge the community to reflect on this particular series of events and the comments of former Admissions employees within the context of a much broader landscape.

As an institution, Dartmouth very publicly supports diversity on campus. It is clear, however, that some members of our community find this environment to be at best an unsupportive, at worst a hostile, place to live and learn. Historically, when students, staff or faculty members have openly shared perspectives that point to the fact that there are differential experiences on our campus, Dartmouth has distanced itself from these community members. In doing so, it has allowed the burden to remain individualized, compartmentalized, and marginalized. The implicit message is that it is not Dartmouth's fault, Dartmouth's problem, or Dartmouth's responsibility as community, but "their" fault, "their" problem, and "their" issue to get over or work through. This disassociation, and even dismissal, masks the entire community's accountability for the experiences of its members, regardless of whether or not these are our own personal perspectives. The College has made progress in the recent past, but it will take much more to weave the concepts of respect and tolerance into the fabric of the entire institution. We must re-center our conversation to a broader discussion that actively examines current attitudes, structures, policies and procedures that do not support the achievement of our goals.

In his May 10th letter to the community, President Wright reaffirmed Dartmouth's commitment to "building a tolerant, open and fair environment." With that commitment in mind, we urge you all to examine why this is still not a hospitable environment for many members of our community. What are you doing in your everyday life to become more welcoming and tolerant? Do you listen with a willingness to learn from others? Do you acknowledge opinions, experiences and perspectives different from your own? While the administration has a lot of work to do, so does each and every member of this community.

Dartmouth is at a critical juncture, and as the student activism of late has reminded us, now is the time to have the courage to re-envision ourselves. As President Wright said to the Alumni Council last December, "this is not a time for timidity." We recognize and applaud the students and members of the administration and faculty who have supported and who continue to support efforts to create change at Dartmouth. We encourage and empower all members of the Dartmouth community to acknowledge the varied experiences that shape our collective past, ask questions, do research, think critically about what you see and hear, take responsibility for it and use that knowledge to help us to be creative and to move toward action.

We have seen Dartmouth change in the past decade, but we also know that we can do better and we must. We challenge the Dartmouth community to define what it means by commitment, what it means by diversity, what it means by community. As Audre Lorde warned, "When you narrow your definition to what is convenient, or what is fashionable, or what is expected, what happens is dishonesty by silence." Our community has been responsible for dishonesty by silence for far too long. We must do better.