Hassett: The Dartmouth Review Must Go

The Review is a safe space for intolerance, sexism and racism.

by Meghan Hassett | 8/7/20 2:20am

Blake Neff ’13 resigned from his position as Tucker Carlson’s writer after CNN exposed his misogynistic and white supremacist online vitriol. Few were surprised that he wrote for The Dartmouth Review, which proudly claims the likes of Dinesh D’Souza and Laura Ingraham. The Review creates a nice, cushy home for privileged bigots like Blake Neff. I should know. I wrote for the Review on and off my freshman year.

College is a whirlwind of self-discovery — four years of creating and shedding skins that don’t quite fit. Looking back on the person you were just the year (or term) before can make your nose wrinkle. Still, “I was a different person then,” isn’t accountability. Neff’s ousting spurred a long-overdue reflection on my own failure to be a white ally on campus. It’s not enough to not be like Blake Neff. Behind every Blake Neff, there is a culture of privilege and ignorance lacking empathy, accountability and diverse voices.

At Dartmouth, this culture is best summarized by the existence of The Dartmouth Review. The Review is where white wealthy boys in boat shoes go to deploy conservative talking points and practice for the lives of bigotry they will lead after college. They tell student protesters, "if you don’t like it, leave," and have ample preparation condemning protesters of injustices after graduation. They defend the use of Dartmouth’s old, racist team name and mascot, and then are predisposed to defend confederate statues. They breed racist and homophobic writers like Dinesh D’Souza, so they are prepared to share space with problematic people like Neff. And, behind them, there are people like me, who sat in the meetings tacitly endorsing all of this. People who, at best, simply walk away.

Coming into college as a white, upper-middle class cis woman from the suburbs of Long Island, I had heaps of privilege I never examined. I could defend the free speech of someone I disagreed with, but I could not hold them accountable for the real harm their rhetoric caused for people who didn’t look like me. I didn’t understand the harm myself. I was used to being the only public school kid and the bleeding heart liberal among white socially liberal, fiscally conservative guys. I felt comfortable when my first friends in orientation were prep school boys I could tease about loving Reagan. That’s how I ended up eating pizza at Review meetings, surrounded by SAEs.

By freshman spring, I had mostly just ghosted the Review. That didn’t stop me from having a hot garbage take when student activists released the Freedom Budget during my junior winter. The Freedom Budget document was a list of clear demands for structural changes, calling attention to the unmet needs of marginalized people on campus and the systemic harms caused by white, patriarchal, elite institutions like Dartmouth. Disappointed by the dismissiveness and lack of support for the sit-in I saw from my white peers, I wrote an article taking aim at the “divisive rhetoric.” But the problem was not the authors of the Freedom Budget. It was me. Namely, my ignorance and inability to see the ways that institutions that by and large benefited me were oppressive for others. I centered my comfort, and the comfort of my white peers, over the very real need for transformative change at Dartmouth. I could have listened and shown up. Instead, I spoke over them.

It only took a few weeks for me to regret the entire article. In a spring term course on social movements, I came face to face with myself in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail: “the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom.”

I see white moderates who care about police brutality and Black lives discussing how defunding the police is “logistically impossible,” how the movement would be more "effective" if they changed their slogan, or changed their demands, or stopped riling people up so much. This is the same thinking that led to my atrocious article.

Thankfully, my circles shifted by senior year from white and male to queer, femme and diverse, and I learned a lot. My own perspective and how I engage with social movements shifted dramatically, and it’s now hard for me to reflect on the ways I failed to be anti-racist and a real ally while at Dartmouth.

There are the Blake Neffs, blatantly and proudly harmful, and then there are those, like me, who told BIPOC student activists how, when and why to protest. There are students who say nothing about Neff, said nothing when Dartmouth eliminated need-blind admissions for international students, but are outraged about predominantly white varsity sports getting cut. All of these students serve to uphold systems and structures that benefit white people and harm others.

The Dartmouth community must reject and remove The Dartmouth Review; we cannot tolerate the existence of a safe space for intolerance, sexism and racism. We must center solutions created by and for BIPOC students, queer students and students with lower incomes. I echo another classmate’s call to re-read the Freedom Budget and reflect on how we can be better allies to underrepresented people in our communities. White people must continuously hold ourselves accountable for not only the harm we may cause but also the ways we may fail to show up for the people and movements that matter. I cannot overstate the importance of seeking out people with different voices and experiences than your own — people who are unfamiliar to you, who challenge you, who help you grow and change boldly. Then, when some pompous, racist pig you might have shared a pizza with gets caught for his online hate speech, and the dozen or so others you know who worked closely with him can’t even disown him, you might finally be able to say: Dartmouth has a problem.

Hassett is a member of the Class of 2015. 

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