Verbum Ultimum: Change From Within

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 1/24/13 11:00pm

Last Saturday morning, residents of the first floor of Brown Hall awoke to find racist graffiti scribbled on a white board ("Racist graffiti found in freshman cluster," Jan. 22). Just yesterday, our community received another message from the President's Office, informing us that race-based verbal harassment took place this week in the Class of 1953 Commons ("Second bias incident reported," Jan. 25). This campus has seen three incidents of racial bias in less than four months last November, residents of the third floor of Brown Hall found racist remarks written on campaign materials supporting President Barack Obama's re-election bid ("Incident Team reacts to bigoted vandalism," Nov. 9, 2012). The continued occurrence of these events is simply unacceptable.

The graffiti which included a derogatory term for a black individual does not appear to have been directed at any particular person. At '53 Commons yesterday, a student walked by two others, made eye contact and verbally harassed them by speaking gibberish that they perceived as mock Chinese. But whether the acts are targeted or not is beside the point that these events take place with any frequency speaks to the profound insensitivity that exists on our campus.

Unlike the administration's slow reaction to offensive vandalism on the ground floor of McLane Hall in November 2011 (Verbum Ultimum: A Mistake to Learn From," Nov. 18, 2011), their responses to these recent cases have proven more timely. In all three, Interim President Carol Folt promptly sent out campus-wide emails condemning the incidents. We note the administration's quick response, but recognize that, by itself, it will not solve the problem.

Students are often quick to point the finger at the administration in the wake of these incidents. However, while it is easy to blame authority figures, the administration is certainly not encouraging racially biased behavior. Instead, the source of the problem lies with the individual students who perpetrate these acts of bigotry. We need to create and affirm a social norm in which racism is strongly condemned.

The impetus for change cannot come from the administration alone. Only we as students can truly enact the cultural change we desire on campus. It is up to us to make it socially unacceptable for students to scrawl derogatory graffiti in public areas or harass people on the basis of race. Therefore it is especially disappointing that in a campus-wide email on Monday, the president and vice president of Student Assembly outlined various long-running initiatives, but failed to mention the graffiti incident that occurred only two days before. It is only by reversing this lack of concern and revising our notion of collective responsibility that we will be able to prevent future such incidents.

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