Verbum Ultimum: A Mistake to Learn From

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 11/17/11 11:00pm

Last week, we all reneged on our moral responsibility to ensure that our campus is a safe, accepting place. The Dartmouth community's response to the discriminatory vandalism on the ground floor of Fahey-McLane residence hall has been delayed and half-hearted on every level. From the administration to student leaders to The Dartmouth itself, campus groups did not react to this disturbing incident in a forceful or timely manner that reflected the egregious and hateful nature of the crime. In so doing, Dartmouth students and administrators did not adequately send the message that homophobic, bigoted behavior is not tolerated here.

The lag between the Sunday, Nov. 6 discovery of the vandalism and the beginnings of a public response on Thursday, Nov. 10 is astounding. By Sunday evening, the day after homophobic slurs were found scrawled on the walls of the Fahey-McLane common room, many student leaders and College officials were aware of the incident. Yet the first public acknowledgment of the vandalism came a full four days later, when The Dartmouth published an article reporting the crime. This newspaper failed in its responsibility to keep the Dartmouth community abreast of important College developments and did not pursue information on the incident in a timely manner indicative of the act's implications. For that, we apologize.

The administration also waited too long to publicly address the incident. Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson did not send a campus-wide email condemning the vandalism until Thursday, Nov. 10. Just as alarming, Johnson had not heard from a single student regarding the vandalism prior to her email, she said in an interview with The Dartmouth Editorial Board. Student groups including Student Assembly, Gender, Sexuality XYZ and Palaeopitus Senior Society did not respond publicly until the following week, when Palaeopitus organized a whiteout and candlelight vigil on the Green. Campus' unenthusiastic response and quiet showing of solidarity exemplified by the small portion of students wearing white on Wednesday failed to make the loud denouncement of hate and intolerance that our community should demand.

By contrast, when hateful graffiti was found on the wall of a dormitory at Williams College last Friday night, students were notified by email the next morning and student leaders met with administrators over the weekend. Classes were canceled on the following Monday, and students spent the day participating in discussion groups and sensitivity programming. An estimated 1,000 community members from the approximately 2,000-person college turned out for the campus march and subsequent speeches.

Canceling classes may have been a more appropriate response to the hate speech at Williams because it threatened violence, but comparing the responses to the similar incidents highlights the weakness of our community's reaction. Whereas Williams turned a negative occurrence into an opportunity for dialogue, education and the affirmation of the importance of minority students on campus, Dartmouth students and administrators alike failed to stand with a subsect of students when they needed support.

This unfortunate incident provided an opportunity to truly demonstrate the strength of the Dartmouth community. These last two weeks should have been a time in which students and administrators swiftly came together to condemn hatred and bigotry. Instead, two powerful and regrettable trends student apathy and poor communication between senior-level administrators and students combined to produce an embarrassingly slow response. We urge all members of the Dartmouth family and particularly its guardians to learn from this sad display, and to reflect on the type of community that we need to foster at Dartmouth.