Students protest annual Dimensions show

by Jasmine Sachar | 4/20/13 5:49pm

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.

An account called Dartmouth RealTalk posted a video of the protest to YouTube late Friday night, calling it "Another Dimension of Dartmouth." The group claims to "get people involved with changing the campus climate," according to the video's description. It has been viewed over 9,000 times as of this update.

"Our purpose is not to scare prospective students away," the description said. "Rather to give a holistic and realistic prospective to counterbalance the flawed advertising that takes place during Dimensions."

As the 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.

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, 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."

For Sofia Rainaldi, a prospective student from Colorado, Dartmouth remains her first choice, though 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 felt she would have benefited from more time to speak about the issues with current students.

Emily Leach '16, a member of the Dimensions crew, said the protesters scared and confused potential students.

"Shouting at a bunch of 17-year-olds who are away from their families, who are looking to make a decision showed that they were not thinking straight," Leach said. "It was counterproductive, it was rude, and it reflected poorly on them."

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said she hopes that the protest does not discourage students from enrolling.

"The demonstration last night displayed 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 video, created by Dartmouth video production group Savage Media, which is unaffiliated with the protesters, has since been removed from YouTube. The group also created posters and chalked sidewalks in the days leading up to Dimensions, all carrying messages that portrayed Dartmouth in a negative light.

Critics of the Dimensions show and weekend program have argued that the weekend is an inaccurate depiction of campus. Johnson said she and others, including Dean of Admissions Maria Laskaris, made efforts to ensure this year's events 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 "in solidarity," according to a campus email from the Soul Scribes, which did not sponsor or endorse the event. The organizers aimed to "give a holistic and realistic prospective and balance the advertising that takes place during Dimensions."

Johnson pointed to initiatives including the Bias Incident Response Team and its formal reporting system that allow students to report incidents of sexism, bias or racism, as well as recent community dinners, that aim to further discussion of campus issues.

These problems are a societal ailment, and quick fixes do not exist, she said.

"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."

In a campus email Saturday night, Johnson said students who participated in the protest are reporting being harassed by other community members.

"Threats and intimidationeven if made anonymously or onlineviolate our standards and expectations for the Dartmouth community," she said in the email. "That kind of behavior is never justified."

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