Martha Hennessey '76 relates physical assault at College
Amidst the fervor of the #MeToo movement and the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Judge Brett Kavanaugh, New Hampshire state senator Martha Hennessey ’76 has spoken out about her personal experience with gender-based violence at the College in 1976.
In September, Hennessey described an incident in which she, a female student in the early days of coeducation at the College, was beaten by a fraternity brother while attending a birthday party for a friend at a Greek house. She had not planned to stay at the event for long because she needed to study for an exam the next day, Hennessey said in an interview with The Dartmouth. As she was leaving the event, the fraternity brother took her keys, ran from her and taunted her with them, causing her to try to grab his arm, she continued.
“He just lost it in rage about how I could’ve torn his sweater,” Hennessey said. “He was angry, maybe because I had broken up with one of the brothers, maybe because he never wanted coeducation — I don’t know.”
The fraternity brother then began to physically attack Hennessey, she said.
“He picks me up, throws me around on the floor and the fireplace and throwing my keys down on the floor so that when I went to get them, he’d pick me up again and throw me again,” Hennessey said. “Finally somebody came into that room from outside — it was like in the entryway of this fraternity — and it distracted him, and I grabbed my keys and ran out.”
Hennessey said that another student called the campus police, who called her and asked her to come see them. According to Hennessey, they suggested that she press charges. She said that she also talked to a senior administrator, who also suggested that she press charges. Her father was the Dean of the Tuck School of Business at the time of this incident, and Hennessey said she thought that her father’s position made the issue particularly sensitive as she decided whether or not to press charges.
“Everybody seemed at the end to leave it up to me [about whether to press charges], which was, I think, a good thing,” Hennessey said. “They honored my request not to do anything about it.”
She noted that she still sometimes wishes that she had pressed charges after the incident.
Hennessey added that she saw the fraternity brother at reunions as he “stood glaring at me” and “telling anyone who would listen how horrible I was that I went to the campus police, which, of course, I actually hadn’t done.”
Hennessey also said that she twice narrowly escaped being raped as a Dartmouth student. She had been held against her will but managed to break free both times.
“The whole thing was just insane,” she said. “And almost every single person from my era at Dartmouth will tell you that they were sexually or physically assaulted, and certainly emotionally assaulted.”
Hennessey said that she did not come forward about the fraternity brother assault incident at the time due to pressure for women to ignore the flaws at the newly co-ed College. She also noted that she did not want to develop a reputation or identity surrounding the assault.
“I never really wanted anyone ever to think that I was doing it for my own to get attention, because it’s not attention I would ever want,” she said.
With this comment, Hennessey alluded to a problem that has garnered significant national media attention in recent weeks with the Kavanaugh hearings and Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony — assault survivors coming forward with their experiences and being received with dismissal or disbelief.
The hearing for Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation is ongoing. Last week, Ford appeared at the confirmation hearing to deliver her testimony alleging that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when both were in high school. Kavanaugh maintains that he did not sexually assault Ford.
“I think the biggest fear of any reporting party is that they won’t be believed,” Title IX coordinator Kristi Clemens said. “My worry is that what is happening now in [Washington,] D.C. underscores that for some people.”
Women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Giavanna Munafo teaches Women’s, gender and sexuality studies 20.02, “#MeToo: Intersectionality, Hashtag Activism, and our Lives” in which students learn about modern feminism, including the #MeToo movement.
“From my perspective and from most of the people in the class’s perspective, [the Kavanaugh hearing] is a good lesson in history repeating itself, sadly,” Munafo said.
In reaction to the Kavanaugh hearing, Student Assembly sent a campus-wide email with the subject “Dr. Ford: We believe you” on Sept. 28. In the message, SA president Monik Walters ’19 and vice president Nicole Knape ’19 noted Ford’s “tremendous bravery” and asked Dartmouth students to “take note of the ways we contribute to a society where survivors of sexual assault feel systematically silenced.”
According to Knape, Student Assembly sent this email to support sexual assault survivors at the College and highlight how student leaders are taking measures to become an institution free of sexual violence. Knape and Walters ran for their positions on a platform of “reinforcing sexual assault prevention energies on campus,” Knape said.
“We want to establish a campus climate where survivors are supported whether or not they come forward to report,” Knape said.“We didn’t want news of the [Kavanaugh] trial to be yet another roadblock for people who are considering reporting … there are many barriers already for why people do not report.”
Hennessey said that she decided to come forward with her own story last month after hearing President Donald Trump question the validity of Ford’s claim due to the length of time she waited to report the incident.
Hennessey also emphasized how, although she experienced gender-based violence over four decades ago, many students at the College today still feel uncomfortable in many on-campus social spaces. She said that she has talked to Dartmouth administrators in the past about addressing sexual assault on campus but her concerns were “brush[ed] under the carpet.”
“[President Kim] made it pretty clear he was not interested in any of our concerns at the time,” Hennessey said. “It was not until Joe Biden started saying that there were problems of sexual assault on college campuses that the Dartmouth administration started to really pay attention to it.”
She said while the College has recently taken measures to reduce the prevalence of sexual assault on campus, she does not think these measures are “evidence-based.”
Hennessey identified fraternities as a mechanism for perpetuating sexual violence at Dartmouth.
“Many of the all-male fraternities are propagating anti-female sentiments,” Hennessey said. “Probably not at all fraternities, but I think it’s the ethos and I’m very concerned. I’m not sure what the solution is in my opinion, except to drastically change the nature of fraternities or get rid of them or make them all co-ed.”
Munafo echoed this idea, similarly identifying Greek life as a “flawed system” with an “undue influence” on campus culture.
“It’s always so incendiary to say that fraternities are a problem and we shouldn’t have them, but that’s what I’ve been saying since 1994 when I first started working at Dartmouth,” she said.
Munafo added that she has seen other universities abolish Greek life from their campuses.
“People flip out and then they move on and then they don’t have [Greek institutions] anymore,” she said. “People still have fun, and they still have brotherhood and sisterhood.”