College has rich history of protests

by Iris Liu and Laura Weiss | 4/24/13 10:00pm

9878_article_photo
4.24.13.news.historicalprotest
by Dennis Ng and Dennis Ng / The Dartmouth

In 1986, a group of 12 students, 10 of whom were staff members of The Dartmouth Review, destroyed three of the four plywood shanties on the Green with sledgehammers. Classes were canceled and administrators held a teach-in that over 1,000 students attended.

"Classes were canceled for one day for a moratorium for the administration to talk about what was going on," said Keith Boykin '87, a former editor of The Dartmouth.

Amidst additional campus issues, the faculty passed a vote of no confidence against College President David McLaughlin, and he stepped down at year's end. The shanty protest continued for several months.

"I think the moratorium in place of classes that day in '86 helped to have a cooling off period," Boykin said. "I think it was very good."

Racism, homophobia and acceptance of students of different backgrounds were underlying campus issues.

"It didn't end the controversy or the crisis on campus, it just kind of brought to the core a lot of the issues that had been bubbling beneath the surface," Boykin said. "It was a time when the campus was coming to grips with all the different issues it was facing."
Dartmouth received national media attention, and the Village Voice called it "the college event of the year." Newsweek magazine, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Time Magazine, numerous television news outlets and a number of regional newspapers ran coverage of the events.

This week's Dimensions protest and aftermath were picked up by ABC News, CNN, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Bloomberg Businessweek, News and Observer, The Washington Post and The Huffington Post.

Economics professor Charles Wheelan '88 said he attended the College during "tumultuous times." Wheelan was studying abroad when the shantytown protest began in the fall of 1985, and he returned to campus the following term. The tenor of the environment on campus at the time is similar to the current environment, he said.

The College has never successfully differentiated between the mode of protest from what is said at a protest, Wheelan said.

While a protest might have an important message, rules and laws cannot be broken. Rather, the two issues must be dealt with entirely separately.

"Regardless of what you feel about what is said, you still have to ask if individuals were violating College rules," Wheelan said. "In this country, you have to separate the message from the way the message is delivered."

Protests in 1969 led to sustained disruption of normal life at the College.

In an anti-ROTC protest on May 6, 1969, an estimated 80 students, faculty and alumni, 56 of whom were arrested, staged a sit-in at Parkhurst Hall for 12 hours. Several College officials, including former College President John Dickey, either left the building on their own will or were forcibly carried out by protestors.

Administrators obtained a Superior Court injunction and an order for the demonstrators' arrest, and those who refused to submit to arrest were subdued with mace.

The protestors were taken to the Grafton County jail and released on bail the following afternoon. Forty-five of the demonstrators were arrested on May 15 for contempt of court, denied a petition for bail and sentenced to 30 days in jail and a $100 fine. By May 22, 40 were convicted. Two faculty demonstrators were dismissed from the College at the end of the academic year.

Earlier that week, on May 4, 1969, College President John Kemeny announced a week-long suspension of classes in conjunction with a nationwide university strike against President Richard Nixon's expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia. The week would be dedicated to "soul-searching," Kemeny said, in light of the shootings of unarmed college students at a Kent State University protest of Nixon's Cambodia campaign.

Dartmouth established a Strike Steering Committee that led community meetings every other day in the Hopkins Center courtyard. By the end of the week, the Committee announced that the strike would continue for the remainder of the term. Students could finish up classes if they wanted, but faced no disciplinary action if they chose not to.

Protests similar to the one held over this Dimensions weekend, but which did not provoke the administration to cancel classes, occurred in the fall of 2006, when students held a "Rally Against Hate" after The Dartmouth Review, the football team, Phyrgian secret society and other campus organizations committed anti-Native American acts.

Although this week's protests and response appear to be rooted in the past, alumni interviewed expressed mixed opinions about the events.

Alumni Association president John Daukas '84 said that though he supports discussion of racism, sexism and inclusivity, the Dimensions show protest was "outrageous."He was appalled that College administrators "coddled" the protesters by canceling classes for a day.

"We are 100 percent behind respect for community and respect for people expressing their views," Daukas said. "But the Dimensions protestors displayed childish, self-absorbed behavior like they were throwing a tantrum."

He said many alumni contacted him to express disappointment in administrators' management of the issue.

"Interfering with Dimensions weekend and hurting Dartmouth's ability to attract minority students and other qualified candidates is inexcusable," he said. "Administration totally mishandled this and knuckled under to this kind of extortion, and it shows a lack of leadership."

Despite recent events, Class of 1988 president Stephanie Lewin '88 said her son accepted a spot in the Class of 2017 on Tuesday night. Lewin hopes prospective students will not decline an offer of admission because of recent events, especially because these dialogues teach the community to grow up and feel passionate about causes.

"This is real life dialogue, and this is how it works," she said.

Daukas praised the College for responding to intolerance but added that the protesters, who broke several rules outlined in the Dartmouth Student Handbook, should receive disciplinary action.

"The protestors should be punished so that people won't violate Dartmouth's rules of the community in the future, but instead they've been rewarded for bad conduct," Daukas said. "It really feels like lunatics are running the asylum."

Former history professor and unofficial College historian Jere Daniell '55 saw the protests of the 1980s as distinct from current events.

Lewin, who was working as a student area coordinator for undergraduate advisors at Parkhurst Hall when students responded to the attacks on the shantytowns, said the shanties were a peaceful form of protest, as was students' subsequent response to perceived administrative inaction.

"I hope that I was part of helping a peaceful solution to come about," Lewin said. "It really sounds like it is in contrast to what protesters did this time. It didn't really seem nonviolent. I saw the video of them pushing people aside."

Wheelan drew parallels between student movements of the past and present.

"It created a great deal of polarization on campus around several things," Wheelan said. "One was the underlying issue of apartheid and divestment and those kinds of things, but those quickly gave way to debate about the mode of debate."

He said canceling classes shows the administration is taking an issue seriously, a powerful move regardless of its effectiveness. As before, continued discussion is needed now, and Wheelan said issues "simmered" on campus in 1986 long after the day of canceled classes, and the same issues erupted again in 1988.

"A lot of the same underlying issues, if anything, just simmered for a long time," he said.

Boykin said Dartmouth has a long history of conservatism and aggressive responses to conservatism, and that the week's events may signal change.

"I hope that something good comes out of this," Boykin said. "I hope it will give people hope on campus. I hope people will start to listen to each other and hear the concerns of students who are sometimes not represented."