Verbum Ultimum: Our Own Walls

The College must take concrete action against the pervasive racism that exists on its own campus.

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 6/14/20 7:28pm

In response to the killings of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor and several other Black Americans at the hands of police in recent weeks, massive protests nationwide have called for police reform and racial justice. The premise of the recent protests — that all people deserve equal treatment regardless of race — reflects a fundamental truth, and one to which we as a society still fail to hold ourselves. Systemic racism and white supremacy are national and even global issues, but they manifest themselves at the individual and community scales. And Dartmouth is no exception. 

On May 31, College President Phil Hanlon wrote an email to the Dartmouth community condemning racism within the U.S. and noting the work on the part of the Dartmouth community that he believes provides reason for hope. In the email, he specifically praised the College’s “collective resolve that racism, bigotry, and hate have no place on our campus or in our society.” These were certainly welcome comments, yet they largely missed the point. It is not enough for Dartmouth to merely recognize the general existence of racial injustice on a national level; it must go further, recognizing in particular the pervasiveness of racism and anti-Blackness on its own campus. Claiming a “collective resolve” to combat racism at the College disregards the incidents of hate that have become commonplace at Dartmouth. In this period of American soul-searching, Dartmouth cannot afford to rest on its laurels. 

Although the College administration may be loath to admit it, racism continues to pervade Dartmouth. In 2018, for example, there were multiple cases in which racial slurs were graffitied onto students’ doors in residence halls. In response, the College restricted students’ access to buildings within their respective house communities and issued banal statements expressing the desire to make “the campus safe and welcoming for all students.” Unfortunately, this is a typical reaction from the College — the provision of flowery condemnations and ineffective solutions that suggest action without allowing for actual, meaningful change. 

Similarly, the continued existence of racial bias is evident on Librex — an anonymous discussion app — which has served as a platform for a volley of openly discriminatory remarks by Dartmouth students. For example, certain candidates for this year’s Student Assembly elections were attacked and had their eligibility questioned on the basis of their ethnic backgrounds. Student workers at Novack were derided in thinly veiled racist comments maligning the music played at the cafe. Posters on the app have also referred to COVID-19 as the “Kung Flu” and the “Chinavirus,” mocking Asian students and perpetuating derogatory myths. But the College, thus far, has offered no recourse in the matter, standing by while members of its own student body unabashedly air harmful prejudices.

This legacy of muted response on the part of the College has allowed bigoted incidents to recur and racist sympathies to persist. The graffitied slurs that garnered extensive condemnation in 2018 were not a new occurrence. And hateful comments on Librex were preceded by racism on other incendiary platforms, like YikYak and Bored at Baker — the latter of which became host to lynching and rape threats. The expressions of concern by the College that inevitably follow hateful events are necessary, but they often prove far from adequate in addressing the overarching problem. 

Dartmouth must stop treating racist events as isolated incidents and forfeiting responsibility. Instead, as is being increasingly understood across the country, the College’s response must first understand,  acknowledge and combat the pervasive racism that exists within its walls. As the nation grapples with how to combat systemic racism, Dartmouth needs to finally take real action against the all-too-real racism that exists within its own community. 

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.