Racism Remains at Dartmouth

by Shaun Stewart | 11/10/06 6:00am

Dartmouth is a school that prides itself on its commitment to diversity. We have a relatively high percentage of minority students. We have affinity houses, strong academic programs in areas like African-American and Latino studies, and recruiters who seek to bring the brightest minority students to Dartmouth. We even have an entire administrative branch -- the Office of Pluralism and Leadership -- devoted to fostering mutual respect and understanding on campus. All of these attributes reinforce the fact that Dartmouth is a school where minority students can feel welcome and accepted among their peers.

Or not. This past weekend, the College showed once again that it is more than willing to tolerate racial insensitivity on campus. Specifically, it revealed the true state of race relations at Dartmouth through the crew formal that was held on Friday night in Collis, which had a "Cowboys and Indians" theme. People dressed up in stereotypical and very offensive "Indian" costumes, harkening back to the racist past of this institution. On top of that, directly upstairs from the crew formal was the Noche Dorada event sponsored by Lambda Upsilon Lambda fraternity Inc., and attended by many Native American students. What made the formal especially heinous was that it was a Dartmouth athletic team event, held in the Dartmouth student center and sanctioned by the Dartmouth administration.

It is extraordinarily disheartening to me, not only that a small number of students on this campus insist on perpetuating the Indian mascot, but that the majority of students allow them to. The Indian mascot is racist, and there are no two ways about it. It is a mockery of Native Americans, who are a proud people who have their own cultures, languages and religions. The mascot reduces a complex and beautiful society to a few stereotypical images of savagery and war, which are then exploited for no other reason than to provide a few chants at a sporting event.

Even people who claim that the mascot is a sign of pride that displays the "good" characteristics of Native people are deceiving themselves. The very concept of a mascot is a caricature of the thing it represents, which again reduces an entire race of people, of individuals, to a few trite cliches. Does every Native look like the old mascot? No. Does every Native come from a southwestern tribe, the stereotype most commonly displayed on Indian mascots? No. Have you ever seen a Native student carrying a tomahawk around campus or wearing a ceremonial headdress to class? No.

Why then is it acceptable to have this caricature as a mascot or for non-Natives to dress up in phony ceremonial garb for Halloween?

Another way to think about it is this: if you are Asian, how would you feel about strangers claiming you must be good at math? If you are Jewish, how would you feel about strangers claiming you must be good with money? If you are black, how would you feel about strangers claiming you must be good at basketball? While all of these are ostensibly "positive" stereotypes, they are nonetheless incredibly offensive (and not views that I hold in any way, shape or form).

Claiming that Natives are "strong warriors" is no different. They all reduce an entire race of individual people, who have individual strengths, interests and personalities, into one typecast mold.

There are also many people on this campus who are simply ignorant to the fact that chanting "wah-hoo-wah" or dressing up in mock ceremonial outfits is offensive to others. To these people, I would say stop and consider what you are doing. By dressing in an "Indian costume," for example, you are not merely having some innocent fun, but rather are using symbols that are sacred to Native peoples in a way that is completely sacrilegious and racist.

As a Native American student at Dartmouth, I have felt extremely unwelcome by people who support the Indian mascot. I, along with most other Native students, feel that the mascot is a sick joke made at our expense. It is bad enough that in the first 200 years that this institution existed, it averaged less than one Native student per year, despite the fact that one of the main tenets of its founding was to educate Native students. Now that we have an established Native American program at Dartmouth, those who support the mascot seek to use it to perpetuate their own feelings of racial superiority.

However, I love Dartmouth, and I have faith in the majority of my fellow students. I have faith that they are truly good people who care about those around them, and that they will be willing to join us in trying to eliminate the Indian stereotypes on this campus.

Let us make this not just a Native issue, not just a minority issue, but let us make this a Dartmouth issue. While we value many of the rich customs of our tradition-bound school, we must realize that some traditions have no place here anymore. If we can do this, we can retain our identity as a College, while also leading Dartmouth into a future of mutual respect and tolerance. Let that be the legacy of our time at Dartmouth.