Website for sharing college sexual harassment experiences launches

by Reilly Olinger | 5/3/19 2:00am

Dartmouth Speaks, a website and Instagram page created by a group of Dartmouth students and alumni to anonymously share the experiences of people in the Dartmouth community who have faced sexual violence or harassment, recently launched. 

The website, according to one of its founders, author and poet Diana Whitney ’95, “offers a platform to anonymously and safely come forward and share [victims and survivor’s] stories,” in order to provide support as well as collect the experiences of generations of people within the Dartmouth community. Additionally, it allows a space for allies of sexual assault survivors to express support and advocate for change, according to Whitney. 

Whitney said that the intention is not to “[mine] people for graphic details,” but rather to provide a Dartmouth-specific space for survivors to say, “I’m a Dartmouth survivor and this is what I need.” 

Itzel Rojas GR ’19, another one of the site’s founders, said she believes that all readers, including “survivors, allies, advocates or people who are ignorant to these issues” can better connect with the stories shared on the website because of the common experiences shared and the way the site gives users to visualize the locations described. 

“People can tap into their empathy a little more,” Rojas said. “You can put yourself in that person’s shoes.”

The team behind the website’s development is the Dartmouth Community against Gender Harassment and Sexual Violence, a group that was formed after a federal lawsuit was filed by seven former Dartmouth students last November that accused the College of allowing three psychology and brain sciences professors of creating a culture of sexual misconduct against female students. 

The website currently has two posts, one of which is titled “He raped me on a Wednesday.” In the post, a Dartmouth alumnae described being sexually assaulted around 30 years ago and choosing not to report the rape, as “rapists were not disciplined.”

The second post, titled “Students’ lives and bodies are not among faculty perks” was written by Robbin Derry ’75. In the post, she writes that “students and alums must stand together to demand more from Dartmouth faculty, administrators and the Board of Trustees” in regards to sexual misconduct conducted by faculty members against students. 

Whitney said she saw an outpouring of support for the plaintiffs of the lawsuit. She added that following the filing of the lawsuit, more people began to share their own stories of sexual violence and harassment at Dartmouth. 

“The question became, how can we create a living repository of stories, to collect them all in one place?” Whitney said. 

To Whitney, the answer was Dartmouth Speaks. Whitney said that the idea behind the website is to empower survivors, who can choose to share their stories so they feel less isolated and alone. 

“All of these incidents [of sexual assault] are done in a way that purposely isolates people,” Rojas said. “It can create a lot of shame and a lot of guilt. So to see that in such a small place — that there are more people who share your experience than not ... is comforting.”

Whitney acknowledged that coming forward about sexual violence isn’t the right choice for all survivors but said that it was powerful for her. 

“It took me decades to write about what happened to me at Dartmouth … I found it so empowering and cathartic — it was better than years of therapy,” she said. 

According to Whitney, coming forward breaks a historical tradition of secrecy regarding survivorship.

“Silence has been such a defining characteristic of the survivor experience — that we’re expected to live in silence and shame — either through victim blaming or the internal shame,” Whitney said. “The default mechanism of sexual violence is to remain silent.”

In addition to providing support to survivors, the site is designed to confront the history of Dartmouth as an institution, according to Stanley Colla ’66 TU ’86. 

Colla, who has spent decades working for the College and is now a part of the DCGHSV said, “My own sense is, for a good bit of the early part of co-education at Dartmouth, the culture of harassment and violence was in existence, but it was swept under the rug. In other cases, it was dismissed rather openly.” 

He said he believes that this history should prompt Dartmouth to do more to change its culture.

“Our reputation as an institution and the history of the school, which has been pretty sexist in my own experience, suggests we could take some risks and be a leader in these issues if we wanted to be bold about it,” Colla said.

History isn’t the only reason for the institution to reckon with this change, according to Rojas. Although it is important to acknowledge the past, and seek redress for harm done, Rojas said she sees a more practical need for institutional change.

“[Dartmouth] forces its students to be reliant on this institution because it’s such an isolated place,” Rojas said. “The institution can’t refuse to be supportive. What students have access to is only what the institution provides. That’s what makes Dartmouth different. This stuff happens everywhere, but there is a different process because of the role the institution plays in the everyday life and fabric of the students.”

According to Whitney, the DCGHSV aims to work towards transparency and change in terms of the College as an institution. 

“We’re passionate about creating real change, and we’re not going to be quiet,” Whitney said.