After my high school graduation, my uncle gave me a card with a black-and-white photo of a grizzly man drinking Budweiser and ice fishing on the cover. "Beware," he had written on it, "...the Dartmouth Man!" I remember laughing when he gave it to me; I think it's still propped on my desk at home.
I wasn't aware at the time that my uncle was, albeit flippantly, giving me my first introduction to the world of gender issues at Dartmouth. Even after 35 years of coeducation, there still seems to be a sense of newness to having women at the College on the Hill. Fittingly, the discourse surrounding gender is a constant, relentless, roundabout struggle that has been taking place before I first set foot here and will take place long after I go.
It is a conversation that I never expected to become a part of my college career -- I had never taken much interest in feminism -- and yet gender is an undeniable part of our existence here. I say "our" because it includes the boys just as much as it does the girls; I love many of the men of Dartmouth and am grateful to have them as friends and family. I refuse to take aim, but I do take interest in why we are trapped in a system that, despite its ability to bring out the best in us, can also bring out shamefully, embarrassingly poor behavior as well.
This weekend, female alumni will flood the Dartmouth campus to celebrate 35 years of coeducation at Dartmouth. Thirty-five years of bold and often brilliant women who have fought, tooth and nail, to gain the traction that women today have. Dartmouth was the last college of the Ivy League to go coed. They did this in 1972, not because of a newfound interest in gender equality, but because the progressive politics of the 1960s and '70s would have rendered the college a relic without it. Thus, the Men of Dartmouth gave a begrudging "welcome" to coeducation, though the College did maintain a strict 3:1 male-to-female ratio until 1979.
When women first arrived, coeducation meant little aside from hanging full-length mirrors and painting "wo-" in front of "men" on some bathroom stalls. According to a history honors thesis on women at the college submitted by Lucy Buford '00, there were literally no institutional changes made to integrate or support women. The administration was reluctant about how to address issues of sexism and sexual assault on campus, so it simply didn't.
A 1979 article in Esquire catalogued the gang-rape and abuse of a mentally ill woman by a group of fraternity men; the woman was later picked up wandering down Webster Avenue in nothing but a Dartmouth t-shirt. This came as a shock to female students, especially when the College took little to no disciplinary action against the men. Banners reading "Cohogs Go Home," a popular slogan in the early years, hung from the windows of dorm rooms.
Perhaps the most striking example of how normal sex-based harassment and violence came to be came at the 1974 Greek Hums, a contest during which fraternities could write songs and submit them to the administration in an effort to win the grand prize: a keg of beer. Lines from the winning submission that year went, "With a knick-knack, paddy-whack/Send the bitches home,/Our cohogs go to bed alone."
Considering the implicit consent for sexism that came from the administration, it is no surprise that establishing networks and organizations for women on campus was no easy task. The first sorority at Dartmouth, Sigma Kappa, was founded in 1976 and the Women at Dartmouth formed to further gender-based issues.
The 1980s were marked by a period of intense polarization of feminists and more conservative sects, which was exacerbated with the 1980 establishment of The Dartmouth Review. Similar to what was taking place on the national scale, the radicalization of Dartmouth sparked class, race and sex-based controversy over the course of the decade. Most famously, during the president's 1986 Homecoming weekend address, roughly 12 Dartmouth women dumped bags of simulated bloody tampons in front of the stage.
This was the phase of "womyn" at Dartmouth; the often theatrical and angry cries for change coming from females on campus who were tired of being ignored. Many female students were intimidated by this face of feminism. Others cried that "sisterhood means revolution."
Some much-needed traction arrived in the late '80s, when College President James Freedman began to take the first steps towards gender neutrality at Dartmouth. Relatively speaking, College policy moved forward by leaps and bounds; in 1990 the College even helped organize a Rally Against Hate in response to political upheavals on campus. In 1988 the largest symbolic shift in the College's self-image took place when the alma mater became gender neutral; the "Men of Dartmouth" were abandoned for "Dear Old Dartmouth."
The last 15 years at the College have been slightly less dramatic, though the struggle for gender equality is a constant. The sorority system rose during the '90s and Dartmouth's first organizations devoted to gay, bisexual and transgender issues were founded. As is the case with any institution that is in love with its own past and tradition, Dartmouth is slow to change. But change can (and does) occur.