Verbum Ultimum: A Missed Opportunity

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/11/12 10:00pm

In the spring, increased visibility of harmful hazing at Dartmouth prompted the College administration to announce the creation of the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability, equally comprised of students, faculty and staff, to work toward decreasing the incidence of harmful initiation rituals performed by student organizations ("College forms safety committee," May 8). Despite Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson's strong rhetoric regarding the importance of an inclusive discourse on campus hazing practices and specifically the important role that this committee would play, the members of the committee of which she serves as co-chair have not met since the committee's initial meeting in the spring ("COSSA fails to meet since May," Oct. 12). Greek house pledge terms, the primary locus of hazing, have been underway for weeks, and the failure of this committee to convene is inexplicable, especially given the amount of attention it received last spring when it was touted as proof of the College's willingness to reform.

In a recent editorial, we criticized both the administration and the student body for fostering a culture of miscommunication on critical issues ("Verbum Ultimum: Destructive Distrust," Sept. 14). While Johnson has solicited input on harm reduction policies from various individuals through open forums and other meetings, this committee would theoretically integrate much broader perspectives, both from the four student members and from the faculty and staff members. In fact, providing a mechanism for such an assortment of opinions was the stated purpose of COSSA's creation and was the impetus behind the diversity of its members. The committee was also intended to provide a forum for faculty input, which has been sorely lacking in the administration-dominated process of the last few months.

The new harm-reduction policies took effect on Sept. 21, and fraternity pledge terms officially began on Oct. 1. The fact that COSSA failed to meet this term prior to either of these dates is mystifying. We now wonder what utility such a committee, which can only last in its current composition until June 2013, can have if input is not being submitted during the time of year when harm reduction is most necessary. The establishment of COSSA was originally praised as the vehicle for a new "integrated approach" that would drive cultural change at the College, even as it co-existed alongside many organizations and committees with similar goals. We fear that the administration has missed a critical opportunity to incorporate input from a broad sector of campus in the formulation of new rules and regulations by failing to put this committee to use.

In the spring, we asked that Johnson be more transparent and accessible to students ("Verbum Ultimum: Open the Door and Listen," April 13). While Johnson certainly worked to address criticisms early on in her tenure, her failure as co-chair of COSSA to convene this important committee at any point during the Fall term certainly stands in the way of this early progress. Much attention was given to this committee immediately following its creation, and we are disappointed to see that it has not been put to use in formulating new policies to promote harm reduction on campus.

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