Matthews: To the Class of 2017

by Susan Matthews | 4/21/13 10:00pm

The first week of classes during the fall of my senior year, the freshman class received an email containing a song sung in eerie auto-tune warning them that Dartmouth frat brothers were rapists and that there was no hope for reform. ("Verbum Utimum: To the Class of 2014, Oct. 1, 2010) It was a devastating thing to hear as freshmen navigated their first friendships and classes. That a group of anonymous upperclassmen chose to create this song and dump it amongst already overwhelmed freshman struck me as irresponsible and counterproductive.

Yet the fact remains that there are several rapes a year on this campus. I know my freshman fall, one of my closest friends was raped. A rape kit, a criminal investigation and a long process to recovery followed. It was heartbreaking and terrifying, and it instilled in me a fierce desire to change the things about Dartmouth that let that happen.

This motivation brought me directly to Parkhurst Hall on the day the rape song was released. I spoke to an administrator, explaining the song and my fear that freshmen would be confused and scared. I stressed that the administration must acknowledge the email, point the students to resources and invite a more open dialogue about sexual assault. That day, the administration failed our student body. They chose to ignore the problem rather than address it and rededicate themselves to change. Their actions were as cowardly as those who sent the song.

Today, a parallel story emerges. A group of Dartmouth students felt that their voices were not heard, so they chose to use a vulnerable section of the Dartmouth community prospective students to try to force the administration to acknowledge them. This is unfair, but it is also a statement on how desperate the conversation has gotten, and how much work remains.

To the students who interrupted Dimensions, shame on you. Yes, Dartmouth has a problem, because rapes have happened and will likely continue to happen on campus. Well, the world has a problem too, because equally terrible and much worse things happen outside of Dartmouth's walls. By hijacking the conversation, you have focused discussion away from the issues at hand and onto the controversial method you used to bring it up. Just as sending the rape song to vulnerable freshmen did nothing to create stronger action around sexual assault, your choice to destroy a moment of Dartmouth community will do nothing but isolate people from a critical cause. If you think that you have already exhausted all other means of effecting change, ones that do not terrorize an incoming class, you are not honoring the Dartmouth spirit of hard work and ingenuity.

To the Dartmouth administration, you already know that Dartmouth has a problem. Instead of treating these events as public relations issues, acknowledge them immediately but briefly, and move on to focusing on the actual issue at hand. With a new president arriving this spring, you have a chance to start things on a better foot, so take it. It is complicated ending sexual assault isn't a switch the administration is choosing not to turn.

Ultimately, creating solutions is our responsibility. The administration cannot dictate culture. The administration can try, but they cannot stop sexual assault alone. They cannot stop racism, homophobia or classism single-handedly. They cannot stop binge drinking or hazing by telling the students not to do it. That is up to us. That is up to the student body. You determine the culture at Dartmouth.

I take my role as an alumna of Dartmouth seriously. I serve on the alumni council, and I am trying to increase the number of local sororities on campus, because I believe increasing the number of female-dominated social spaces may reduce the number of sexual assaults. Dartmouth students, it is also up to you to address this problem. Find tangible ways to create a better culture.

To the Class of 2017, of course Dartmouth has problems, like any other college and any other place. But it also has an overwhelming number of assets. If you choose to come to this school, you will learn how to respond and change these problems. You will enter the world a stronger person and better citizen. I know, because I have watched my classmates do so.

**Susan Matthews '11 is a former editor-in-chief of The Dartmouth.*

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