‘Freedom Budget’ protests raise familiar issues, alumni say
Last week’s sit-in and protests drew mixed reactions from alumni, with some arguing that the movement lacked focus and others praising participants for taking action and confronting campus issues.
Students held a nearly 75-person march across campus on Wednesday and a two-day sit-in in Parkhurst Hall to protest College President Phil Hanlon’s response to the “Freedom Budget,” a student-authored document proposing over 70 ways for the College to “eradicate systems of oppression.”
Nathan Gusdorf ’12, a leader of Occupy Dartmouth during the fall and winter of 2012, said the goal of student protest is not necessarily to propose ideas that can be immediately implemented, but to mobilize people and articulate criticism.
“A lot of alumni are really inspired by these protests, and a lot of us aren’t inspired because we agree with every single demand that they’ve made,” Gusdorf said. “We agree because we think that this is the only way that Dartmouth is going to change.”
On April 4, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece titled “Oppressed by the Ivy League” which argued that Hanlon and the administration should have more firmly defended themselves against “little tyrants” whose problem was “their own sense of privilege, not Dartmouth’s.”
Max Hunter ’13, who heard about the protest through friends and social media, said he found it “infuriating.” Administrators, he said, should have acted decisively to shut down the demonstration.
In line with the Wall Street Journal op-ed, Hunter said the sit-in participants failed to recognize that a Dartmouth education presents each student with privileges and opportunities that thousands lack.
“These protesters are trying to pretend as hard as they can that their lives won’t be better because of Dartmouth,” he said.
Hunter also criticized the demonstrators for standing up against “global systemic structures” instead of “concrete, localized” ones, which he said he believes made it impossible to arrive at a tangible solution. Lacking a clear source for funding or a well-defined timeline, the protesters were unprepared, he said.
Dartmouth Change founder Susy Struble ’93, who spoke personally and not on behalf of the organization, said the protest’s content was more important than its execution, adding that she was heartened by the fact that students collaborated on the “Freedom Budget” across groups.
Eric Nelsen ’87, who heard about the protest through family members at the College, The Dartmouth and The Wall Street Journal op-ed, said he was happy to see students sharing their points of view.
Nelsen said that students’ choice to sleep in Hanlon’s office went too far, however, crossing from constructive protest and dialogue to strict demands and refusals to follow College rules.
Ben Day ’66 said that based on what he heard about the protests from the media, they were focused more on confrontation than dialogue. Both students and administrators could have gone further to engage in constructive conversations, he said. The situation was particularly disappointing because Dartmouth has encountered similar events in the past.
Nelsen, who was at the College during protests against Dartmouth’s investments in South African businesses at the time of apartheid, said those protests were mostly productive because they sparked dialogue. He believes those protests also went too far at certain moments, such as when students built shantytowns on the Green.
Rajiv Menon ’86, one of three students whose graduation was postponed after participating in shantytown construction, said last week’s protests had a “ring of familiarity.”
“I know very little about the origins of [the protest], but what I can say is that it’s pretty sad that after 25 years, the same issues that we raised all those years ago have to be raised again.”
The concerns raised in the “Freedom Budget” are serious, Menon said, and reflect issues that people have been discussing throughout Dartmouth’s history. Menon said he strongly believes in taking action to address campus issues.
In a response on its website, the Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association expressed support for many “Freedom Budget” proposals.
“We are encouraged and supportive of the position, as we know many of us have participated on committees and task force for many years only to see the work shelved and no follow-up action,” the statement read.
Hunter said the protesters placed too much responsibility on the administration to find Dartmouth solutions to worldwide issues.
“Hanlon cannot eradicate sexism, but he’s been tasked with it,” Hunter said. “It’s like Sisyphus pushing up the rock. What do you expect from him? What do you expect from anyone at Dartmouth?”
Stewart Towle ’12, a leader in the Occupy Dartmouth movement, said he cried when he first read the “Freedom Budget” proposal because he was so moved and excited by its potential.
Calling last week’s protests “inevitable,” Towle said he believes Dartmouth has grappled with identity issues that come with being a relatively conservative institution on the forefront of liberal education. The College has a “patriarchal white supremacist culture” at its core, he said, which presents a challenge for many students from minority backgrounds.
Last week’s protests, Towle said, presented a more “legitimate and unified front” than the Occupy movement did in 2012, as they brought together students from across communities to respond to a collective problem.
“I’m sending my heart out to those students who are probably getting a lot of flak from their fellow students for trying to stand up,” Towle said. “I know that tends to be the reality of trying to assert a need for change at Dartmouth.”