Community rallies around Native students following reported bias incident
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, a cohort of mainly Native students trudged from residence hall to residence hall, removing flyers encouraging students to “celebrate Columbus Day all year” with “vintage” apparel featuring the Dartmouth Indian.
“A lot of people were working so that when people woke up, they didn’t even know about it, because it was a very triggering image,” MOSAIC president Carene Mekertichyan ’16 said.
In reaction to the incident, groups from all over campus have expressed outrage at the act and support for the Native Americans at Dartmouth community. They encouraged students to submit a bias incident report in response.
College spokesperson Diana Laurence confirmed via email that the incident was reported to administrators as a bias incident.
NAD historian Bridget-Kate Sixkiller McNulty ’16 said that the NAD community saw the flyers and was directly involved in tearing them down.
Sixkiller McNulty said that the community is concerned, upset and disappointed about the incident, which it views as “completely unacceptable.”
“Some students do not feel safe on this campus,” she said. “It is horrifying that students do not feel safe on their own college campus, do not feel free to walk around because other students have decided to intimidate and scare them.”
She said that the NAD community recognizes the attacks for what they are — “a racially charged and violent attempt to scare Native students of this college.”
At the time of the incident, 56 high school seniors from around the country were visiting campus as part of the annual Native American Community Program.
Sixkiller McNulty said she thinks the flyering could have been planned to intimidate potential Native students and discourage them from coming to the school.
The flyers read, “Celebrate Columbus Day all year ’round with vintage Dartmouth Indian gear!” with the phrase “Columbus Day” crossed out and replaced with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” They stated, “Native American and proud to be one? Hate political correctness? Love Dartmouth? Don’t want the Old Traditions to fail?” before advertising a CafePress website selling various apparel and other miscellaneous items featuring the Dartmouth Indian mascot.
The posting of the flyers followed a demonstration held by dozens of Native American students on Monday. Students stood on the Green and outside of Parkhurst Hall with signs bearing slogans such as “I am a survivor of genocide,” “This is Abenaki land” and “We are still here,” as well as “Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a proposed replacement for Columbus Day that recognizes the lives and history of North American indigenous tribes. The holiday originated in Berkeley, California, and several major American cities, such as Minneapolis, Seattle and Denver, now officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The entire state of Alaska also recognizes Indigenous People’s Day as of this October.
The College does not officially recognize Columbus Day, and regularly scheduled classes met on Monday.
Tuesday evening, Provost Carolyn Dever and Dean of the College Rebecca Biron co-signed an email to campus calling the distribution of flyers around campus “cowardly and disrespectful” and wrote that it is contradictory “our institutional commitment to supporting and maintaining an inclusive and respectful educational community.”
Dever and Biron called on community members behave in ways that “reflect our highest and best values” and “promote a positive living and learning environment for all.”
Shortly after, the Student Assembly sent a campus-wide email that called the incident a “premeditated act of racism” and stated that the Dartmouth community “cannot tolerate such deliberate acts of hate speech perpetrated by those who wish to intimidate or harm other students.”
Assembly spokesperson Justin Maffett ’16, who wrote the email sent by the Assembly, said that after hearing about the flyers, he immediately contacted other Assembly and NAD executives for an emergency meeting.
“It was clear that the community already felt vulnerable from previous events outside of their control earlier this term,” Maffett said. “To be put in a situation where they felt isolated and invisible was something that Student Assembly could not overlook and be a bystander to.”
Maffett said that the Assembly asked NAD members for input on the email sent out to campus, as well as for permission to speak on the subject, and circulated a draft to NAD members before sending it out to campus.
In the email, the Assembly wrote that a member of the NAD community was recently egged on campus, something they described as a “violent and destructive act.”
The Assembly wrote that in response to the incident, Safety and Security officers will be conducting additional rounds and walk-throughs at the Native American House and that Native students who feel unsafe can contact Safety and Security for temporary housing reassignments. Dick’s House counselors were also made available for any affected students.
Maffett said that in some respects, he thought those actions might have been redundant, as he expected administrators to make those resources available.
“I’m glad we went through with it, because in the end, the administration didn’t make those resources available on their own,” he said. “The important thing is that affected students have a support network available to them.”
Maffett said that he was surprised that administrators omitted safety measures from their message. He said the Assembly saw an opportunity to show students that they should feel confident they need not rely solely on administrators to speak out against clear acts of violence, hate speech and racism.
“We would like to create a space, an environment, a community, where we can rely on peer-to-peer accountability,” he said.
Assembly president Frank Cunningham ’16 said that he was “extremely upset,” not as Assembly president, but as a student.
“When I see premeditated acts of racism such as this one, it really does break my heart,” he said.
Cunningham called the sense of humor of students who found the flyers funny “disgusting.”
He said that while the Assembly supports the concept of free speech, “This was hate speech, and there’s a difference.”
Cunningham said that in the future, he thinks it is time for the entire community to have a serious conversation about what is acceptable.
The College chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural group Mosaic, the Panhellenic Council and the Pan Asian Council have also sent out campus-wide emails stating their solidarity with NAD.
Mekertichyan ’16 said that MOSAIC sent the email to “show that we stand by the Native community.”
She emphasized that MOSAIC does not have a specific movement, but is instead “standing in solidarity” with the Native community as allies.
“This is about people caring about human beings and the Native community that’s been so oppressed,” she said. “We stand behind them 100 percent.”
Cunningham and Mekertichyan both said that they looked to administrators to take further action.
Cunningham said that he definitely thinks administrators should investigate the incident.
“This is a time for the administration to act,” Cunningham said. “Student Assembly is more than happy to act and wants to act with them.”
The Assembly stated in its email that it calls on the administration to “open a full inquiry into this incident.”
“I would just like to see the administration take this seriously as a hate crime and work to find out who did this,” Mekertichyan said.
She added that she thought the email the Dever and Biron sent was very political in its wording.
“With our response, we wanted to be very real and stand by community,” she said.
Cunningham said that acting on this issue is not just a job for administrators, but also a job for the Assembly and larger community.
“All of us standing together will show whoever did this that it is unacceptable,” he said. “We can be the power, and we can be the voice to make sure that racist acts such as this never happen again.”
Mekertichyan was part of the group of students who spent much of Tuesday morning, from approximately 1:30 to 5 a.m., removing the flyers from residential halls across campus before students could wake up and see the “triggering image,” she said.
History and Native American studies professor Colin Calloway, who was chair of the Native American studies program for 12 years, said that these types of issues “crop up time and time again” at the College.
He characterized this incident as an instance where “malicious” and “offensive” actions are committed under the guise of freedom of speech.
Calloway said that this type of behavior “demeans all of us as an institution and a community, and goes against the grain of the type of community we are invoking and trying to build.”
Calloway said that this problem affects everyone at the College.
“This is not just a Native American problem, it is a Dartmouth problem,” he said.
Calloway, who has written a book on the history of Native Americans at Dartmouth, said that Native American history is essential to the history of the College.
“[Native Americans] are as integral a part of the Dartmouth tradition as you can get,” he said.
The College was established by money raised by a Native American and would not have been established here and in 1769 had it not been for that Native American, he said. The original College charter commits the College to providing education to the youth of Native American tribes.
In 1970, then-College President John Kemeny announced that 200 years after the College’s pledge to provide this education, he was recommitting the institution to its founding pledge. Since then, Native students have been actively recruited, a Native American studies program was created and over 800 Native students have graduated from the College.
“To say that Dartmouth is committed to the education of Native students and then invite them into a hostile environment where people are not welcoming and some individuals seem to be targeting them is a problem,” he said. “As long as that’s going on, that’s going to hold us back as an academic institution.”
Sixkiller McNulty said that the NAD community will persevere.
“We will not be frightened into a corner by a few students who have decided to use all of their Greenprint money on a sophomoric but deeply hurtful act,” she said. “Native Americans at Dartmouth is an extremely resilient community, and we will be resilient against this.”