Protesters push past staff, students into Dimensions show
Standing before hundreds of prospective students awaiting the annual welcome show, the protesters rallied around cries of recent incidents of homophobia, sexual assault and racism on campus, and chanted criticisms of current students' and the College's portrayal of these issues over Dimensions weekend. The group brandished posters with messages such as "I was called fag in my freshman dorm" and noted the College's adoption of an Indian as its mascot in the first half of the 20th century.
Numerous protesters declined to comment.
Some protesters stayed off campus over the weekend out of concern for their safety after threats were made against them, mainly online. In a campus email Saturday night, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said the "choice of venue may be debated" but focused on the threats to the protestors' safety. She thanked the students who alerted the College to their concerns.
"Threats and intimidation even if made anonymously or online violate our standards and expectations for the Dartmouth community," she said in the email. "That kind of behavior is never justified."
An account called Dartmouth RealTalk posted a video of the protest to YouTube late Friday night, titled "Another Dimension of Dartmouth." The video's description says the group aims "get people involved with changing the campus climate." As of press time, the video of the protest has been viewed over 9,000 times.
"Our purpose is not to scare prospective students away, rather to give a holistic and realistic prospective to counterbalance the flawed advertising that takes place during Dimensions," the description said.
The protest aimed to signal to administrators and community members that the group "will no longer tolerate their dishonesty and apathy that perpetuates this vicious cycle of systematic demoralization of our peers." The protesters appeared to break College rules outlined in the Dartmouth Student Handbook, which bans conduct that "prevents or disrupts the effective carrying out of a College function or approved activity, such as classes, lectures, meetings, interviews, ceremonies and public events." Another section of the handbook states that students are prohibited from "unauthorized entry into, or occupation of a private office, work area or a closed and/or College building."
The protestors organized their demonstration mostly through word of mouth and email. Throughout the day on Friday, a group of students discussed whether the protest should be held through a LGBTQ community news listerv chain obtained by The Dartmouth. Many of the students on the chain expressed concern and disapproval over the timing and venue of the scheduled protest.
"We're doing this to get the College to finally realize that by not making tough, courageous changes, they're actually running Dartmouth straight into the ground," one student wrote.
The student referred to the protests as a strategy.
"It happened last year, it's happening this year. And will hopefully happen every Dimensions until the College changes... And by the looks of it, I think it's working."
During last year's Dimensions, a group of students, calling themselves the "Concerned Students of Dartmouth," collected the signatures of 163 admitted students and their parents to express concern about the Greek system. The petition was a part of a larger initiative to convince students, alumni, faculty, the Board of Trustees and the administration to confront issues of hazing, sexual assault and alcohol abuse.
As this year's protesters made their way down the long aisle of the dining hall, members of the Dimensions crew asked the group to leave while prospective students in the audience began chanting "We love Dartmouth." The protesters left after about five minutes.
Jess Ma '16, who was behind the curtain with other crew members, called the prospective students' response a "heartwarming moment."
"I was still pretty shaken when I started to hear this loud murmur," Ma said. "It didn't take long for all of the prospies to join, and for all of us backstage to understand what they were saying. I think that moment really gave us the push we needed. It gave us the hope, that despite the protesters' chants, they still loved Dartmouth, and were eager to have us continue to convince them to come through our crazy performances."
One student checking wristbands at the door, who asked to remain anonymous, was pushed aside and sustained minor injuries when protestors forced entry. Admissions officers and students standing at the door were informed prior to the show that some current students might try to gain entrance to the dining hall and protest.
"We only assumed they would try to sneak in," the student said. "We didn't know they would actually physically try to get in after it was closed."
Lainie Caswell, a prospective student from Palo Alto, Calif., said the protest was a "low point of the weekend."
"It was definitely very off-putting," she said. "I had just come from the Bay and I was like, I love Dartmouth! This is so great.' The way in which the protest was presented was very surprising."
The demonstration prompted Caswell to turn to current students with questions about contentious debates on campus.
"I feel like I gained a better perspective on those issues when people weren't yelling at me," Caswell said. "I think it was good that those issues were brought to light because I don't think I would have talked or asked about those problems. I gained more of a holistic perspective. [The protest] definitely wasn't the best way to approach that."
Dartmouth remains Sofia Rainaldi's first choice. Rainaldi, a prospective student from Colorado, said she has some doubts and will continue to think through her decision.
"Now I have worries about how the College handles issues in the student body," Rainaldi said. "Overall it doesn't change what the school itself is in terms of the academics, the community and the people."
Rainaldi said she regrets the weekend ended shortly after the protest, and thought she would have benefited from more time to speak about the issues with current students.
After the show, the Dimensions crew hosted a party in Sarner Underground, where prospective students asked current students about the material broached in the protest. Aniksha Balamurugan '16 said she explained that while problems exist on campus, they are not unique to Dartmouth. Balamurguan emphasized that members of the Dimensions crew strived to be as honest as possible.
Emily Leach '16, a member of the Dimensions crew, said the protesters scared and confused potential students.
In an interview, Johnson said she hopes that the protest will not discourage prospective students from enrolling.
"The demonstration last night portrayed that Dartmouth is a place of many voices, and that students here feel they have the freedom to express themselves," Johnson said. "Hopefully that is a selling point, not a point of deterrence."
The group's demonstration follows the release of a video on Thursday afternoon called "Dartmouth Supports," in which students held signs claiming "Dartmouth supports sexism" and "Dartmouth supports hate," among others. The Dartmouth video production group Savage Media, which is unaffiliated with the protesters, originally uploaded the video and has since removed the video from its account. The video has since been reposted on Dartmouth RealTalk's account. Dartmouth Savage Media is not affiliated with RealTalk, but Taylor Payer '15, a member, produced the video. Dartmouth RealTalk also made posters and chalked sidewalks in the days leading up to Dimensions, which stated that Dartmouth supported sexism, racism and homophobia, and that campus needs change.
Critics of the Dimensions show and weekend program have argued that events do not accurately depict campus life. Johnson said she and others, including Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Maria Laskaris, made efforts to ensure this year's programming displayed a range of perspectives. On Friday afternoon, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership hosted an event called "Dartmouth Legends, Myths, and Realities" in Alumni Hall, where current students gave candid accounts of their experiences and addressed concerns from prospective families.
"What we saw over the weekend was a lot of students telling positive stories, but the fact that not all students experience Dartmouth the same way doesn't mean Dartmouth is a bad place," Johnson said. "It means that like any other college in the country, we have things that we need to work on and the administration and students as well are committed to doing just that."
The protest organizers held a separate, unofficial event, on the first floor of Fahey-McLane residence hall on Friday night called "#RealTalk," inviting prospective students to join them, according to a campus email from the Soul Scribes, which did not sponsor or endorse the event.
Johnson pointed to initiatives, including community dinners and the Bias Incident Response Team and its formal reporting system that allows students to report incidents of sexism, intolerance or racism, that aim to further discussion of campus issues.
"To say we are doing enough I think wouldn't be accurate," Johnson said. "I don't think we can ever do enough to eradicate discrimination."
To address campus climate issues, Johnson said the administration "will begin to implement various ideas and suggestions that come from the community."
The Admissions Office regularly reaches out to prospective students after Dimensions for a follow-up. Laskaris said she did not know if the protest would affect yield, Laskaris said.
"I am hoping that it doesn't impact their decisions and that they have the opportunity to reflect on the entire Dimensions experience," Laskaris said. "We have been looking at some of the comments on the Facebook page and the comments we are seeing reflect the diversity of opinions that were seeing on campus."
*Staff writers Maggie Nelson and Jessica Avitabile contributed reporting.**##