Cube aims to engage campus, many respond with jokes

by Victoria Nelsen | 5/20/14 7:07pm

Over six feet tall, a black-and-red cube sits imposingly between the Collis Center and the Class of 1953 Commons. Large block letters ask students what Dartmouth should do to reduce high-risk drinking, sexual assault and exclusivity. Chalk trays hang off the structure, giving students the opportunity to write suggestions, though many have taken the opportunity to scrawl jokes across its surface.

The cube, sponsored by the student group Improve Dartmouth, was constructed over the weekend. The initiative is part of a subsection of Improve Dartmouth called “On the Ground,” which is working to collect ideas for the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” campaign, Improve Dartmouth co-chair and co-founder Esteban Castaño ’14 said.

A few weeks ago, Improve Dartmouth joined the administration’s campaign, Castaño said. The student group, which includes students from Dartmouth Roots, Palaeopitus and Student Assembly, originally declined College President Phil Hanlon’s invitation, he said, but eventually joined because members thought part of the process should be student-led.

Castaño said Improve Dartmouth initially declined the offer to join “Moving Dartmouth Forward” because its website aims to discuss tangible ideas that will benefit Dartmouth’s community, and he believes the Internet is not a good forum to discuss controversial issues. Group members realized, however, that they could expand beyond online initiatives.

One of Improve Dartmouth’s goals for the partnership is to meet with individual student groups. Though the group facilitated an invitation-only summit in April, Castaño said it is necessary to meet with groups in their own spaces and on their terms to get ideas from a broad range of students.

Many meetings have already been scheduled, he said, including with Greek houses and student clubs.

Castaño said Improve Dartmouth will report students’ ideas to the presidential steering committee, which is gathering ideas, evaluating their feasibility and proposing recommendations to the Board of Trustees by Nov. 5. The committee has until June 30 to collect ideas for assessment.

“I don’t know what the best way to engage campus is, but I think we should try many different things,” Castaño said. “We don’t have a lot of time, and we need to get people involved in the process.”

The cube was erected to engage students and young alumni visiting for Green Key, Castaño said. Suggestions are being recorded, he said, noting that jokes are expected.

“This process is not perfect,” Castaño said. “I’m improvising a lot, and that’s fine. I’m okay with that.”

A notice to students adorns one side of the cube, describing the reasoning behind the structure and inviting passersby to share ideas. Exclusivity, high-risk drinking and sexual assault were chosen in line with issues brought up in Hanlon’s “Call to Action,” the note explains.

The cube, with its invitation for student comment, is reminiscent of sticky notes placed around Collis and Baker-Berry Library a few weeks ago. The notes were put up after the April summit, Castaño said, as part of an effort to expand conversations beyond attendees.

Of eight students interviewed, most expressed general approval of the motivations behind the cube but criticized the choice to construct it during Green Key, due to the influx of inappropriate comments it engendered.

One student wrote “boot n’ rally” under suggestions to lower high-risk drinking.

Katie Yu ’16 said she thinks the cube is a good idea but was discouraged that people are not taking it seriously. The cube, she said, also seems like a publicity stunt.

“A lot of what the administration really wants to encourage right now is the idea that they’re doing something,” she said.

The highlighted ideas are important to address, Yu said, adding that high-risk drinking can seem normal at Dartmouth and that although sexual assault is an important issue everywhere, it is especially relevant at Dartmouth because of the small community.

Andres Isaza ’15 said that the cube was assembled at the wrong time, but that it is a good way to involve students in dialogue.

Pritika Vig ’17 said she likes the cube’s interactive nature and its attempt to engage the entire campus.

The cube’s timing and placement, Jovalee Thompson ’14 said, did not inspire a productive response.

“Just because you raise awareness doesn’t mean people will actually engage with it,” Thompson said.

The cube will remain in place until early next week, Castaño said.