Simineri: Some Things Must Fail

by Nicole Simineri | 10/15/15 8:45pm

Indigenous Peoples Day — or more commonly and inappropriately termed Columbus Day — has come yet again. Though the College has taken steps to make campus better for Native students, including abandoning the unofficial, racist “Indian” mascot more than 40 years ago and not officially recognizing Columbus Day, this year’s holiday did not pass without incident. An unnamed individual or group scattered offensive posters throughout campus celebrating “Columbus Day,” decrying “political correctness” and advertising the sale of Dartmouth “Indian” gear with the justification of defending the our immortalized “old traditions.”

For any respectful community, this act of pre-meditated racism is disappointing — for a College that attracts some of the world’s best minds, it is appalling. The administration quickly responded with a campus-wide email on Wednesday that condemned the posters as counter to the College’s mission of “supporting and maintaining an inclusive and respectful educational community” and the perpetrators as “cowardly and disrespectful.” The administration’s quick response and blatant denunciation of the posters is reassuring. At the very least, it seems that their commitment to barring the disrespectful “Indian” mascot is firm.

Still, these posters are incontrovertible evidence that there are students whose educations are so lacking that they are both contently ignorant and enthusiastic about spreading their ignorance, insensitivity and hate. Even more disturbing is that some of these students might go on to positions of power, influence and wealth. Their identities are still unknown, but anonymity is no surprise. After all, those who hesitate to attach their identities to their beliefs are often those who know their beliefs are problematic at best and hateful at worst.

It is not, however, all their fault. The uncomfortable glorification of the “old traditions” that permeates this campus is partly to blame. Some traditions, such as Winter Carnival, are great fun and strengthen the Dartmouth community. Yet traditions are more than just bonfires during Homecoming — the exclusion of people of color and women from the College for most of its 246-year history is also arguably an “old tradition.” It was not until 1972, for instance, that Dartmouth first began admitting women, and the College’s traditional faction did not accept the change without resistance. Even as recently as 2007, some of the College’s male athletic teams and fraternities stubbornly continued to disregard the women who now comprise approximately 50 percent of the student body by singing the long replaced, outdated and male-exclusive alma mater “Men of Dartmouth.” Likewise, to this day, some students evidently continue to support the “Indian” mascot despite its widespread condemnation by the Native American community. Such sexist and racist practices are not traditions to be praised — they are stains on our history and artifacts from an archaic period to be viewed as warnings against the sort of patriarchy and white supremacy that spawned them in the first place.

To eliminate this reliance on “old traditions” groupthink at Dartmouth, we must take individual action. Moreover, many of these “old traditions” have been used to systematically silence certain groups of individuals. This cannot continue — those being oppressed have the voices that matter when discussing issue of race, sex and gender. Students who are not a member of the minority group in question should take as fact that they do not know as much as the people who actually experience systems of oppression everyday, and should be open to learning from those who do.

In the same way that when an employer or authority figure tells you something that you do not fully understand, question them politely and respectfully. Intend to listen, absorb and learn. Be curious, take initiative and use what you have learned to educate others when the boss is not present — but when they are, take a step back and let the real expert speak. You do not know everything and that is perfectly okay, but come with the intention of changing that, leave having learnt and return to learn even more.

There are good traditions and there are bad traditions, and all should either adapt with the changing times or recede into the abyss of history. As for such “traditions” as the “Indian mascot,” some people would apparently respond with “lest the old traditions fail” — but, for some traditions, I say let them.