Through the Looking Glass: Dartmouth is not for people like me

by Kristina Williams | 2/12/16 1:03am

My freshman fall in 2012, Dartmouth seemed like an unreal experience to me. Even though I knew that the utopia Dartmouth presented to me was not for people like me, I wanted to believe in the dream. It was easier to tell my friends and family back home that Dartmouth was great than to tell them I would rather sleep on the floor next to my mother, grandmother and brother in our studio apartment again than to have my own room and my own bed while living in a space where I felt hyper-invisible and unwanted. I wanted to tell them that I felt more broken and hopeless at this institution then I ever had before. But, I didn’t want to disappoint them because I knew my story, a story of a Black girl from the Southside of Chicago who had gone to Dartmouth, is one that they took immense pride in. So, even though I knew Dartmouth’s utopia didn’t include people like me, I thought that I was going to have the opportunity to make it include people like me. I was wrong.

Just how wrong I was became more apparent with time, starting with my freshman spring. When the Real Talk protest happened, I watched my friends get verbally and physically attacked while daring to fight for their humanity. The Dartmouth administration criminalized them, denounced their character and gave them judicial sanctions all because they decided that their well-being on this campus as students of color was more important than a Dimensions dance show. I saw the evil stares that some white community members would give them and anyone associated with the movement whenever they walked into the Hopkins Center for the Arts or the library. I read the emails and the Bored at Baker posts that threatened to rape them in their sleep. I watched my friends as they cried because everywhere on this campus they felt unsafe — unsafe in their skin, unsafe in their rooms, unsafe in their classrooms, unsafe when interacting with Safety and Security.

The white resistance that I experienced is called white backlash. According to Martin Luther King Jr., “The white backlash is nothing new. It is the surfacing of old prejudices, hostilities and ambivalences that have always been there.” This white backlash did not, however, make me stray away from fighting for justice. I made the decision that I would make my voice be heard and always speak truth to power on this campus.

It was in those moments of truth that I experienced backlash that hurt much more than that of whiteness. This backlash came from my own community. A backlash birthed in Black self-hatred and loathing, seeped in a long history of Black self-erasure in the face of white supremacy. I saw how the many fearless women of color were isolated and degraded by the vast majority of people of color on this campus. As a Black woman myself, this was a reality I could not escape.

When I began to protest, through demonstrations, through the sit-in in College President Phil Hanlon’s office, through advocating the “Freedom Budget,” through speaking out on Facebook, in The Black Praxis, a publication from the Afro-American Society, and in The Dartmouth Radical, I saw the same thing that happened to the upperclasswomen of color happen to me. When I dared suggest that Black men be held accountable for their violent masculinity and that Black women be treated with respect from both white and Black men, I was met with resistance by all parties, including Black women. When I denounced the rape culture that penetrates every crevice of this campus, I in turn was denounced, debased, slandered and isolated by all parties. I have spent the last four years of my Dartmouth tenure being attacked because I love both Dartmouth and my community, but my love has not equated to complacency or silence or neutrality. I refused to allow them both to take comfort in my silence.

White patriarchal supremacy has always turned my community against itself by offering fleeting rewards and hollow security, and Dartmouth, as the seat holder of white supremacy, continues this legacy. Dartmouth has not been the almighty College on the Hill, and freedom has not rung from every mountainside surrounding Hanover. Dartmouth has not been the number one undergraduate institution. Dartmouth has not been the leading school in LGBTQIA inclusivity and diversity. But, what Dartmouth has been is the college that will quickly expel Black students for misquotes in papers, but refuses to condemn men who are openly accused of rape and assault and will welcome those same men back to campus with open arms of forgiveness and praise. It is the college that ignores that institutional racism is embedded throughout the tenured process, disproportionately denying excellent faculty of color tenure. Dartmouth has the dubious record of having nearly the same number of tenured track African American faculty now as in 1980.

This is the Dartmouth that allows it students to unabatedly splatter their racial hatred on the physical and social infrastructures of this campus, while its professors infuse their racial bigotry into our educational infrastructure. This is the Dartmouth that allows racism to run rampant on sites such as Bored at Baker and Yik Yak, where it is okay to tell “all niggers to go back to Africa” and “all faggots to rot in hell,” by saying that it’s simply freedom of speech. This is the Dartmouth that will then conversely demonize and allow the national demonization of its Black students who protest for a better life on this campus, students who only want to affirm their existence in this space! This is the Dartmouth that refuses to allocate adequate funds and resources to its students of colors but will spend $12 million to replace its football stadium. This is the Dartmouth that refuses to acknowledge its violent history, refuses to stop parading Native Americans around as the spoils of ancient conquest, refuses to recognize the Black men and women who built the foundation of this school. This is the Dartmouth where not even wealthy white women are safe at the bottom of fraternity basements. This IS Dartmouth; an institution that has ultimately failed and has shown no commitment to bettering the lives of its students of color, womyn, lower class and queer community, and as a Black woman, this is an institution that will always hate and marginalize me.