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The Dartmouth
April 15, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

New organization to promote civil liberties

Given Dartmouth's presence in New Hampshire, long a bastion of conservative thinking and political individualism, it may not come as a surprise to many that Dartmouth was until last week one of the few Ivy League schools without a civil liberties organization.

Last Tuesday, however, the Dartmouth Civil Liberties Union held its first meeting, with an attendance of 20 to 25 students. It begins the process of recognition by the Committee On Student Organizations on Wednesday.

The group hopes to produce pamphlets on civil liberties and students' rights by the end of the summer, co-founder Adil Ahmad '05 said.

"Civil liberties issues should be an important part of campus dialogue," Ahmad said.

In addition, the group is looking to attract many speakers to campus, including American Civil Liberties Union president and New York University law professor Adrienne Strossen.

At last week's meeting, the group brought up several Dartmouth-specific issues, including walkthroughs of Greek houses and hearings by the Committee on Standards.

Greek houses -- which have been subject to weekly "safety inspections" by Safety and Security since the summer of 2001 -- were defended against walkthroughs by some at the meetings.

"They thought it violated their individual rights since the fraternities are privately owned," Ahmad said.

The discussion of Committee On Standards hearings was especially important, co-founder Jedidiah Sorokin-Altmann '05 said. "We understand the need for privacy in terms of outcomes, but the general process needs to be known."

The group doesn't plan to fixate only on College-related issues, though.

"I would personally be more interested in the DCLU taking on larger issues. I don't want it to be an exclusively Dartmouth organization that just focuses on Dartmouth issues," Ahmad said, adding that he and Sorokin-Altmann decided to create the DCLU after attending an ACLU conference in Washington.

Sorokin-Altmann proposed the idea of founding a civil-liberties group at a meeting of the Daniel Webster Legal Society, a Rockefeller Center-sponsored dinner discussion group that Ahmad co-chaired.

"Dartmouth is one of the very few Ivies that doesn't have a chapter -- if not the ACLU then some kind of civil liberties organization," Sorokin-Altmann said.

ACLU member organizations typically remain in closer contact with state affiliates than with the national organization, he said.

Government professor Douglas Edlin, who serves as the group's faculty advisor, noted that while he doesn't subscribe to all the ACLU's beliefs, he thinks the organization is essential.

"I think it's a good thing for the development of constitutional law in this country," he said.

"The ACLU has done a lot of good work recently and I thought it would be good to get involved in it," Ahmad added, pointing out in particular its defense of the rights of immigrants and opposition to racial and religious profiling, especially after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Dedicated to individual rights, the ACLU maintains local chapters in nearly every state, according to promotional materials. It has been an advocate in many of the most important civil liberties cases in the 20th century, including the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education civil rights case.

It was also active in the recent affirmative action-related Supreme Court cases last month.

On a somewhat smaller scale here in Hanover, the DCLU has completed all the paperwork necessary for COSO funding, Sorokin-Altmann said, and is confident it will be recognized.

He also said campus interest in the group remains high.

"Last week was just the tip or the iceberg," Sorokin-Altmann said. "At least seven to 10 people were interested and blitzed me to say they were sorry they couldn't come."