Real Talk Dartmouth stirs campus dialogue

by Ashley Ulrich | 5/28/13 10:00pm

After a term marked by protests, counter-protests and campus teach-in sessions, students and faculty said campus is moving in a more positive direction. As a result of the recent tumult, discussions of sexual harassment and assault, LGBT, racial and religious discrimination, hate crimes and hazing at the College have come to the fore.

Students filed a Clery Act complaint against the College on May 23 that includes testimonies from over 30 students and alumni and may file a Title IX complaint in the future, said Anna Winham '14, a named complainant on the case.

The complaint against Dartmouth has been "a long time coming" due to ongoing campus life issues and finally took shape with momentum from Real Talk Dartmouth's protests at the Dimensions show on April 19.

"Dartmouth is a business, and it runs like a business selling its prestige," Winham said. "Its prestige can be threatened by lawsuits against it such as the Clery Act complaint against it. It's a way to force Dartmouth's hand and make it change."

Winham noted that Dartmouth's administration only overhauled its hazing and alcohol policies after Andrew Lohse '12 made hazing allegations against Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity that sparked national media attention.

Lohse is also a named complainant on the Clery Act filing.

DARTMOUTH'S PLACE IN THE NATIONAL MOVEMENT

Dartmouth students announced their complaint at a press conference in New York City along with students from the University of California, Berkeley filing a Clery complaint and students from the University of Southern California and Swarthmore College filing Title IX complaints.

Students at Occidental College and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have also recently filed complaints. Yale University was found guilty of Clery Act violations and fined $165,000 by the Department of Education.

Winham said Dartmouth's complaint is unique from those filed by other schools because it focuses on issues beyond sexual assault, including racism, hazing and LGBT discrimination.

This broader focus caused tension at the press conference when two named complainants on the Dartmouth case, Nina Rojas '13 and Dani Valdes '13, were told that they would not be allowed to read their testimonies, Rojas said.

Andrea Pino, a rising senior at UNC, a named complainant on the case against her school and organizer of the press conference, said this was the result of a miscommunication.

Rojas said Pino misled Dartmouth's complainants about the intentions of the press conference, which they thought would build on the existing national dialogue about sexual harassment and assault.

Pino said she had been in contact with Real Talk members since the Dimensions protests, providing them with some informal legal advice about filing a Clery Act complaint.

At the conference, Pino and other organizers, including Gloria Allred, the legal representative for students and faculty filing a complaint against Occidental College, stressed the importance of a unified dialogue that focused on sexual assault, Rojas said.

Allred, a Los Angeles-based civil rights lawyer, has brought suits on behalf of clients against Arnold Schwartzenegger, Herman Cain, Tiger Woods and Boy Scouts of America.

"A lot of people at the press conference were following a very strict script," Rojas said. "It sounded more like a strategy fit for the 1990s than 2013. We were looking to talk about sexual assault but open up that discussion."

ORIGINS AND EVOLUTION OF REAL TALK

Real Talk began "organically" as a reaction to an email from the Dickey Center that alleged that minority students do not do enough to reach out and contribute to public discourse, Rojas said.

Rojas was not entirely surprised by the violent reaction to the group's Dimensions protests after campus reaction toward other protest groups, such as the Occupy Dartmouth movement, of which Rojas was a member. The Occupy group experienced numerous "unfriendly" actions such as knocked down tenting and stolen items, Rojas said.

Even so, Rojas was unprepared for the "intensive and specific" nature of the threats posted on Bored at Baker. The experience bonded the protesters together.

Valdes said the Real Talk group is "fluid," with no constraints on membership.

Its members are affiliated with a wide variety of groups recognized by the Council on Student Organizations, although Real Talk itself is not recognized by COSO.

The group's larger meetings attract about 30 students, Valdes said. Alumni are also involved and additional students do not attend meetings.

Because there have been a range of responses to Real Talk's actions, Valdes said it is difficult to say if the group has contributed to positive campus climate change.

"It's too soon to tell if there is campus climate change," Valdes said. "I do think that we have sparked a lot of dialogue and have formed an activist student movement that is in the early stages of development and still growing."

Members of Real Talk began discussing the possibility of filing a Title IX or Clery complaint soon after the Dimensions protests, choosing a Clery complaint because it could more broadly encompass the nature of their grievances and was easier to file, Rojas said.

The complaint includes members of Real Talk as well as other students and alumni, Rojas said.

Real Talk and others are still considering filing a Title IX complaint in the future and may reach out for legal assistance.

The complaint against Dartmouth was filed with the Department of Education's Civil Rights Office, which will review the case and decide whether to pursue the claims within a few weeks.

Media relations director Justin Anderson said the College has yet to be contacted by the Department of Education or seen the complaint.

Complaints filed with the Department of Education are not publicly available documents.

The problems identified by students on the complaint affect all Dartmouth community members, Lohse said in an email.

"With our endowment and admissions figures both lagging behind our peers, we cannot afford not to progressively re-calibrate," Lohse said. "We cannot afford not to take steps to make our campus truly safe not just for some, but for all."

Lohse said that these changes will have to include reforms to the Greek system, which he called the source of "an unsettling multitude of social dysfunctions."

Clery Act and Title IX complaints are especially hard for the Department of Education to adjudicate because of the high burden of proof in such cases, said Linda Correia, a partner at Fredrickson, Correia and Puth in Washington, D.C., who specializes in employment and sex discrimination cases.

While it is relatively easy to file a federal complaint, complainants must be able to prove that campus crime is not being properly reported in the case of a Clery Act violation or must be able to prove "deliberate indifference" regarding Title IX provisions for those violations.

Correia said she would not be surprised "even a little bit" that universities were routinely underreporting campus crime. Campus Response

Jennifer McGrew '13, whose op-ed in The Dartmouth this winter criticized campus culture for intolerance, said campus dialogue is becoming more public as a result of Real Talk and others' efforts.

"There has always been an opportunity to have dialogue about diversity, but people didn't always take the opportunity to attend those things," she said.

While it is easy for students to blame administrators like Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, it is much harder for students to become involved and take ownership of their own actions, she said.

Annis Rachel Sands '13 said she still perceives Dartmouth's campus climate as being "very reactionary." Sands is a moderator for the Big Green Microagressions website and Real Talk's Facebook page, which documents incidents of bias and harassment on campus.

Sands said she is hopeful that a federal investigation and a new president will aid the College in the long run.

Eva Xiao '14 credited the group with disrupting "certain sectors of campus," including the administration, and spurring dialogue on campus climate issues. She said that she has a number of close friends who are members of Real Talk.

She said filing a Clery Act complaint would help the group with its goals.

"At the very least, the testimonies within the complaint will provide explicit examples of violence, bullying and discrimination at Dartmouth," she wrote in an email. "Hopefully, the administration will be moved to act."

Andrew Finch-Craver '13, who has followed the developments of Real Talk on its blog and Facebook page, said in an email that the group has accomplished its goal of getting the campus community to talk about issues of violence and discrimination.

A number of students who were otherwise uninvolved have been moved to action, he said.

Student body president Adrian Ferrari '14 said that students frustrated by Real Talk's tactics should examine the Clery Act filing "with a fresh lens." He said he plans to emphasize transparency in crime reporting to the administration, though coordinated student action is key.

English and women's and gender studies professor Ivy Schweitzer said that faculty can play a larger role in addressing student life issues, such as mandating new curriculum requirements that help increase tolerance and understanding.

"In the past, faculty has not been encouraged to get involved with student life questions," Schweitzer said. "Since the cancellation of classes, I think we've passed a tipping point. What's happening to students' social life is really impeding the faculty's ability to teach in the classroom."

Lindsay Ellis contributed reporting.

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