Verbum Ultimum: The Potency of Protest

Dartmouth must allow for all forms of discourse if it is to better itself.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 3/1/19 2:20am

Each term brings new changes to campus. The Greek Leadership Council’s first-year Greek house ban is now in its sixth year, a policy implemented after significant student pressure. Dartmouth Dining Services’ Green2Go program, another student led initiative for sustainable to-go containers, has now expanded to multiple dining locations on campus, with Collis Café rumored to be the next target in the spring. After settling a lawsuit from two-time Paralympic alpine skier Staci Mannella ’18, the College will now implement the Mannella Protocol, meant to create a more inclusive community for disabled students. And recently, the Student Assembly’s resolution challenging the College to create a safe environment free from racist attacks and bigotry elicited action and endorsement from senior administrators.

A group of entrepreneurial students even recently created an app that helps estimate the wait line at the Baker Library King Arthur Flour. These problems and their present solutions compile to portray a dynamic place with the constant potential for change. 

There is something to be said for the many individuals — students, staff, faculty — who work to make Dartmouth a functioning, advancing community every day. Efforts large and small, by students and administrators, should not be forgotten when engaging with the myriad faults one might point out on campus. 

Debates about life at the College are often seemingly reduced to assertions that it is either a place beyond reproach or a campus unworthy of existing. Yet the most honest and long-standing advances at the College have come from those who loved it and saw its many flaws in stark relief. 

Is Dartmouth a place prone to stasis? While this is almost certainly true, a brief overview of the College’s history reveals a surprising malleability for a place that so prides itself on tradition. In the past several decades especially, the College shifted as campus was opened to a wider, brighter array of voices and backgrounds. 

There are perennial scourges; the College remains an elite bastion with all the unfortunate trappings that entails. Still, the issues of pomp, classism and waste often attributed to Ivy League universities have been shown to be surmountable — even if only temporarily.

These many adjustments and amendments made throughout the College’s history only occurred, however, because students made their voices known. Dartmouth only changed when it was demanded to. As community members survey campus today, this fact is imperative to remember. 

The Dartmouth community remains mired with many challenges. Sexual violence and an excessive drinking culture dominate campus conversation, while issues of race, class and inclusion challenge the very integrity of the community. These are not new challenges, but they frequently adopt new faces. 

Yet integral to this discourse was not only concerted, diligent and sanctioned efforts on behalf of students. Change at the College, and indeed throughout the world, has often demanded disquiet, civil disobedience and indeed protests. Dartmouth would be wont to remember that there is always such a thing as good trouble. 

Arguably, the College recently exited a period of serious student protest; the Dartmouth Dimensions protests in 2013 elicited a massive community wide discourse involving both the Board of Trustees and senior administrators. The 2015 solidarity vigil turned protest in Berry Library resulted in national headlines and death threats being hurled at protestors. Dartmouth is not a place immune to major upheavals; quite the contrary. 

In the past several years, in fact, the College has experienced controversies and protests surrounding flag-burning and patriotism, the safety of undocumented students on campus, academic research on anarchist groups, the themes of fraternity and sorority parties, the persistence of sexual violence at all levels of the community, dining options for religious students, the tenure of faculty of color at the College, and many, many more incidents that rocked campus and even caught national headlines. 

Students especially should address these problems and controversies in a myriad of ways — chief among them public discourse. Yet, while naturally the editorial board finds public discourse and the voicing of opinions to be a productive venture, it is far from the only means by which students can or should express themselves. Protest and civil disobedience have been important means by which community-members have improved the College before. Hopefully, the potency and effectiveness of these means of change will not be lost on future Dartmouth communities. 

Integral to each of these controversies are also questions of belonging and excellence. Who belongs on this campus? What is the best part of the Dartmouth community? What is Dartmouth now, what does it expect from itself and what does it aspire to become? These questions have been answered in the past by the myriad actions of concerned students, faculty and staff. Issues of inclusion and learning will arise again at Dartmouth. Will the next generation rise to occasion?