Verbum Ultimum

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/28/05 5:00am

For those not bogged down with midterms, papers or the pressures of finding a job, there were a number of special lectures and events this past Wednesday, all provocatively named. The eager Dartmouth student could choose between "Jesus in America," "Fantasies Matter: Pornography, Sexuality and Relationships" or, the most surprisingly titled, "Btches in the Basement." While all three talks touched on topics of interest to the average Dartmouth student, "Btches in the Basement," with its frank discussion of the relationship between Greek organizations and sexual assault on this campus, was perhaps the most relevant to our day-to-day lives. And the organizers should be commended for putting together such a diverse panel, drawing a large crowd, and leading a worthwhile debate. It is problematic, however, that such an event needed an arguably offensive title. If the purpose of creating such a forum is to enable dialogue, to introduce biased or derogatory terms into the discussion from the beginning lessens the impact of the resulting conversation. Furthermore, while creating such a debate is valuable, it is discouraging that the ideas put forth have little impact once people leave the event.

Provocatively titled events are nothing new to the Dartmouth Campus. Last year's "Don't Yell 'Fag' from the Front Porch" discussed homosexuality in the Greek System, while the annual "Consensual Sex is Hot" Day every sophomore summer addresses issues similar to those examined Wednesday night. However, the biggest issue with such titles is that their selection implies that this sort of shock value is necessary to attract Dartmouth students. It does not reflect well on our campus as a community that it takes so eyebrow-raising a tag to bring people to a panel on the important topic of sexual harassment. The organizers should have been able to put together the same program with the same panelists and in the same location, give it an innocuous title, and get the same turnout. The idea that such a title was needed raises uneasy questions about our community.

Finally, the reality is that the most such a panel is going to do is generate discourse, as some students have pointed out. And while many cogent and important points were raised, the fact is that frats don't prevent sexual assault, the Dartmouth culture of excess or the problems of a male-centric social scene. Ultimately, these arguments will not cause any change in behavior, only prompt discussion. And by using such a provocative title, the very nature of that outside debate is corrupted, since it reinforces that idea that women are easily objectified in a fraternity setting. However, if this idea, and the others raised, are to change, discussion is essential. Thus "B*tches in the Basement," in spite of its name, is a needed first step.