Verbum Ultimum: When the Fanfare Fades

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 9/18/14 8:46pm

In a May 6 job posting for a director, the Center for Community Action and Prevention is described as a “critical element of the College’s commitment to preventing and addressing sexual assault and other forms of sexual violence.” Announced in February, the center was slated to open July 1, before its inauguration was pushed back to this fall. Now it has been abandoned altogether.

When she announced CCAP, then-Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson heralded it as a revolutionary stand against sexual assault. It must have been just coincidence, of course, that this revolutionary stand arrived 20 minutes after she publicly acknowledged gruesome threats of rape posted to Bored at Baker, the same day the College announced a 14-percent drop in applications — all amid an ongoing Title IX investigation.

In the initial press release the center was said to reflect Dartmouth’s “commitment to confront the national scourge of sexual violence on college campuses” and its “role as a leader in developing culture-changing strategies.” Announced with much less fervor this week was the fact that CCAP will no longer be an independent entity but will instead be folded into the student health promotion and wellness office, along with services addressing alcohol and drug use and mental health issues.

If merging CCAP’s planned responsibilities into the wellness office makes the most sense from administrative and student support perspectives, so be it. There’s no harm in changing course. Ideas fail all the time, but when failure follows such hype and fanfare, our administrators owe us a timely and forthright explanation. Further avoidance of the issue only compounds the argument that Dartmouth’s strings are pulled by external attentions.

This lack of accountability is shameful.

In an editorial following the center’s announcement, we said, “the College’s P.R. machine pushes the center as a mark of Dartmouth’s leadership on the issue — but this is a bogus claim. It’s a simple repackaging of existing programs.”

And today, still, we take issue with what can only be called a publicity stunt. But there is no gratification in saying “I told you so” when these announcements — or lack thereof — jeopardize student trust.

While the College may have initially intended to establish a separate center for the purpose of sexual assault prevention, its failure to launch requires us to once again demand transparency from our administrators. We understand that the College would want to downplay the folding of CCAP, given how it has been touted these past seven months. But the College has an obligation to admit uncertainty when plans are uncertain, especially those regarding student safety.

When The Dartmouth reached out to the Office of Public Affairs two weeks ago to ask when CCAP was expected to open, one representative was wholly unfamiliar with the center. Another said that the College would be resuming conversations about CCAP with students, faculty and staff “with the start of the fall session,” and announcements would follow. But this week, the very first week of classes, we learned that CCAP was dropped — no public announcement or promised “conversations.” As little noise or news as possible.

Dartmouth’s commitment to eradicating sexual assault should not wax and wane with application rates, media attention or other external factors. And conversations cannot stop when television cameras leave the Green. Once the clamor has ceased, so too do attempts at coordinating progress. This perpetual stop-and-go “action” not only obfuscates and harms the cause — it is embarrassing and unfair to students who expect and deserve an explanation when promises change.