Students said events fostered dialogue

by Lily Fagin | 4/24/13 10:00pm

9893_article_photo
Most students surveyed said the administration's response to the protest and its aftermath was ineffective.
by Nook Harquail / The Dartmouth

In a poll of 1,176 students conducted on Wednesday night, roughly 67 percent said the administration's decision to cancel class was not an appropriate response to the recent events, and 57 percent found the administration's actions to be either "very ineffective" or "ineffective."

On five-point scale, with one being "very ineffective" to five being "very effective," students polled ranked the administrative response at 2.35.

Around 58 percent believed the Dimensions protest had succeeded in its goals to promote dialogue about sexual assault, racism and homophobia. While 72 percent of students said the concerns raised by the protesters were valid, 85 percent disagreed with their disruption of the Dimensions show in order to bring these issues to light.

Roger Lott '14, one of many who criticized the College's response, publicly denounced the cancellation of classes at Dartmouth Hall on Wednesday, wearing a sign with the words "Dartmouth is a safe place, Stop scaring prospies. I paid for class. Where is it?"

"I personally have many hundreds of Bored at Baker posts that are abusive towards me," he said. "I never take any of those threats seriously."

Blake Neff '13 said he was skeptical of the nature of the threats protesters had received.

"I don't endorse threats, and I don't believe they should be threatened, but the simple reality is that so far, like in their letter to the administration, is that it was offensive comments made on an anonymous internet forum," he said. "If we're going to shut down the entire College every time someone says something like that, then we could never open the College."

The poll indicates that students were split on Bored at Baker's ability to influence campus climate. Forty-six percent of respondents said the anonymous forum affects climate, though 67 percent said they go on Bored at Baker less than once a month or have never been on the site.

Students said the administration's action appeared to be a publicity stunt rather than a genuine attempt to improve campus climate.

"I feel like the administration is overly concerned with its public reputation and how it appears to the media, and the main reason they canceled classes was to make a public gesture," Eric Tao '16 said. "Is their intention to truly fix the problem or to make it look like they're fixing the problem?"

Others, however, defended the College's decision, saying it was a necessary step to trigger conversation about important diversity issues. Despite concerns of low student participation and general apathy, The Dartmouth's poll showed that 39 percent of students participated in the community gathering and 28 percent went to a teach-in. Media relations director Justin Anderson said that 1500 attended the community gathering and over 800 participated in the teach-ins.

"I think today was a big step in the right direction," Annie Fagan '15 said. "If the momentum stops we'll lose the progress that we're making, so people need to keep talking and sharing."

When Sharang Biswas '12 Th'13 initially heard that classes were canceled for the day, he was unsure whether people would attend any the planned programming. Biswas said he was happy with the number of students he saw engage in the day's events.

"I think it's a very big step and a very brave step," he said. "Even if it was a PR stunt, the students can make it meaningful."

Some students believed the large turnout signaled progress and broadened the scope of the dialogue surrounding the protest. Evan Curhan '14 said the teach-ins brought together factions of campus that might not otherwise interact.

"I like the idea of having these events every four years, if not every two," he said.

Student programming included a speech by social justice and diversity consultant Jessica Pettitt, a community gathering on the Green and a series of small discussions led by faculty and staff. These teach-ins, moderated by faculty and staff in 20 rooms, saw groups of 20 to 70 students discuss the cancellation of classes, the Dimensions protest and underlying campus issues.

Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson spoke about the importance of reflecting on the Dartmouth community.

"In a college setting, where the demands of the classroom are high and the stakes seem so significant, it is easy to forget that many of life's important lessons occur outside of the classroom," Johnson said. "So today we take a time out, a day to reflect on what it means to be in a community, a day to reflect on the lessons we learn from each other students, faculty, staff."

Dean of Faculty Michael Mastanduno and Duncan Hall '13 also addressed attendees.

Hall discussed his decision to come out during his freshman year and how the College has changed since. He criticized the disrespect that community members show each other daily.

"I felt comfortable and confident to come out because those friends, who are still some of my closest friends today, never once disrespected me," Hall said. "Dartmouth, now we are at a place where that respect has faded, where we have made assumptions, were we have shifted away from the morals and principles that we were taught, and where we are not quite in touch with our beloved College on the Hill as we once were. It's not what the soul and spirit of Dartmouth preaches."

Lott is a former staff columnist for The Dartmouth.

Staff writers Sasha Dudding, Min Kyung Jeon, Josh Koenig and Erin Landau contributed reporting.