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The Dartmouth
April 14, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Highlights from President Sian Leah Beilock’s inaugural address

Beilock outlined five “key areas of focus” for her tenure, which included mental health and creating brave spaces.

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Around 4:30 p.m. on Friday, College President Sian Leah Beilock gave her inaugural address to members of the College community. The roughly 30 minute speech discussed, among many things, Dartmouth’s role in higher education, increased focus on wellness and new national initiatives. A video of the speech is available on Dartmouth’s website. Here are some of the highlights from Beilock’s inaugural address.

On Dartmouth’s mission

“Discovery and leadership are timeless in Dartmouth’s mission, that is true. But today, at Dartmouth, we commit to that dual mission in new ways that will drive impact faster and farther than ever before. 

My proposal is that we approach this work, systematically, through five key areas of focus.” 

In the speech, Beilock defined Dartmouth’s “dual mission” as “discovery and leadership.” She announced “five key areas of focus,” or areas of the College that she plans to improve during her tenure with the goal of pushing this mission forward. These five areas are “mental health, brave spaces, Dartmouth for life, action on climate, breakthrough innovation.”

“This is my vision; these are our aspirations; and this is my call to action for you,” Beilock added.

Beilock has hinted at some of these “five key areas” before she announced them on Friday. In June, Beilock indicated some of her goals include creating “brave spaces” — a play on the phrase “safe spaces,” where students feel comfortable expressing different views around each other — increasing sustainability on campus and strengthening research. 

On the College’s mental health plan 

“In the next two weeks, we will be rolling out a comprehensive plan to center mental health and wellbeing across the university. The plan is aimed at strengthening resilience among all our students — from first-years to the graduate and professional schools, enhancing their capacity for learning and putting them on a path to realizing their full potential.”

The comprehensive plan refers to the new student mental health strategic plan, which Provost David Kotz ’86 announced in a campus wide email on Sept. 14. This plan arose from the College’s collaboration from the JED foundation, which came to be after student distress from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Just last week, we announced important policy changes that will enable students who take time away for care to stay connected to campus. We will also significantly expand mental health training for faculty and staff to enable them to better support students who come to them for help. This is just the beginning.

In recent years, the College’s medical leave policy received criticism for a lack of institutional support and difficulty returning to campus. Recently, the College announced changes to the policy, including its renaming to “time away for medical reasons” and expanding support and resources to students on medical leave. 

On housing scarcity at Dartmouth

“We are also actively working to alleviate one of the biggest sources of stress within our campus community: housing scarcity. Today, I’m pleased to announce the single largest investment in Dartmouth’s residential learning experience in more than a generation. Through it, we commit to introducing at least 1,000 new beds for undergraduate, graduate, staff and faculty housing within the next decade and to breaking ground on the first of these projects for each population — with undergrad dorms situated closest to the heart of campus — within the next 24 months.”

Over the last couple of years, the College has struggled in addressing the housing crisis. In June 2021, the College offered $5,000 to each student willing to give up their on-campus housing. In Jan. 2022, the College leased graduate apartments at Summit on Juniper to undergraduate students, which drew mixed reactions from students. Currently, the College is moving ahead with plans to build a complex housing on Lyme Road after the Hanover Zoning Board unanimously approved a zoning exception.

“Of course, the housing crisis we face isn’t limited to our campus. It pervades our entire Upper Valley community. So, we are doubling our investment in the Upper Valley Loan Fund, an effort that helps create affordable workforce housing.”

Residents of the Upper Valley — as well as campus community members — have long been impacted by the housing crisis. In one study, researchers estimated that developers will have to construct an additional 10,000 homes in the region by 2030 to meet demand.

On fostering campus discussions

“At Dartmouth, we are already making great strides in bringing the best and brightest to campus through historic investments in financial aid and recruitment of the best faculty. Yet, it’s how well we work together, and how freely we express and capitalize on our differences, that unlocks our true potential. For this reason, making brave spaces a hallmark of our campus is a second area of focus.

I want our campus to be a place where every member of our community not only feels comfortable expressing unpopular views, but in questioning others who hold views they disagree with. The best solutions are developed when a diversity of perspectives are brought to the table; so, we must commit to centering viewpoints and voices that aren’t always heard and to brave spaces to let that diversity of thought and lived experience shine through.” 

In public statements, Beilock has reacted to several issues, like the end of affirmative action, by reiterating Dartmouth’s mission of “fostering a diverse community.” In a Q&A with The Dartmouth from Aug. 30, Beilock said she believes in “making sure that we have different kinds of people, with different beliefs and views on campus, and that they can push against each other,” adding that “diversity of thought and lived experience leads to better outcomes.” 

During her time as president of Barnard College, she announced that the school would not divest from Israel after a referendum from the Barnard Student Government Association passed, which sparked an uproar among some students, according to the Columbia Spectator.

On specific campus initiatives to increase conversations

“Next month, Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences, Elizabeth Smith, will launch a new signature program known as the Dartmouth Dialogue Project. This project will intentionally teach the skills of open, honest and respectful communication, both in and out of the classroom. One of our initiatives this year is to support faculty in teaching controversial topics in their courses, and to develop a co-curricular transcript where undergraduates will be able to document their achievements in developing dialogue skills.”

This year, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, an organization with conservative leanings, ranked Dartmouth’s free speech protections 240th among American universities — placing the College among the 10 lowest-ranked listed institutions of higher education.

“Finally, I’m thrilled to announce — today — that Dartmouth is forming the first-ever university-wide partnership with StoryCorps. We will be bringing the One Small Step initiative to campus which, as you may know, is a time-tested methodology whereby strangers with vastly opposing views come together to engage in respectful conversation, even in the presence of strong political disagreement.” 

StoryCorp is a nonprofit organization that provides a platform for people to have “meaningful conversations about their lives,” according to its website. Their website also details The One Small Step initiative, a program in which two people with different political views meet and record a 50-minute conversation. 

Some students have commented and characterized Beilock as a “defender of free speech,” while refusing to take sides on political manners. 

On Dartmouth’s role on climate change

“A fourth imperative — action on climate — includes an aggressive push to achieve Real Carbon Zero on our campus. That means that we won’t buy offsets that come from halfway across the country or halfway across the globe to decarbonize our campus. We will invest in solutions right here in Hanover and within our New England electrical grid.

Later this year, we will roll out specific and aggressive targets for 2030 and 2050. And, over the next three years, we will invest over a quarter of a billion dollars into our campus decarbonization efforts to improve the efficiency of our buildings and install non-combustion technologies like heat pumps, geothermal and solar across campus.”

Real Carbon Zero refers to zero carbon emissions being created or released. In contrast, Net Zero refers to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero while the remaining emissions are reabsorbed through carbon offsets. 

In June, College media relations strategist Jana Barnello wrote that “Dartmouth has taken steps to ensure its endowment investments are made into funds working to support a timely global path to net-zero emissions. This includes using the endowment to invest in renewables, the broad energy transition and other innovative technologies.” 

Barnello also wrote that the College planned to announce “more ambitious” sustainability goals this fall, which were outlined in Beilock’s speech on Friday.  

On Dartmouth’s new initiatives

“To promote STEM diversity, Brown University President Chris Paxson and I have brought together the only six U.S. research universities in the country with women presidents and deans of engineering. Our goal is to leverage the once in a generation moonshot of the CHIPS ACT to bring more women to the engineering workforce. Women make up only 15% of the semiconductor industry, and as the home of the first engineering school in the country that had gender parity at the undergraduate level, Dartmouth knows how to bring the best and brightest to the table — regardless of background or gender in this case. We’ll be formally launching our consortium — called the EDGE consortium — with government, private sector and higher education leaders in Washington, D.C. later this fall.”

The 2022 CHIPS and Science Act authorized $52 billion for semiconductor protector subsidies and increased funding research, driven by shortages from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Class of 2016 became the first class where more women received undergraduate engineering degrees than men from the Thayer School of Engineering. Dartmouth was the first school to achieve this, alongside the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that same year.

The EDGE Consortium consists of several female leaders in academia who advocate for greater participation of female and “historically marginalized groups” within semiconductor-related education and careers, according to its website. In April 2023, the group published a letter in support of the CHIPS and Science Act.

“And because our unique history of Native American education is at the heart of our institutional Charter, we will build on this commitment in a new spirit of partnership next year with the launch of a Tribal Leadership Academy. This Academy will provide a place for experienced and newly elected tribal leaders to convene with one another to share best practices, discuss opportunities and challenges facing sovereign tribal nations, and engage the expertise of fellow participants, Native alumni and Dartmouth faculty across campus.”

Recently, the College has revisited their commitment toward Indigenous communities and Samson Occum’s legacy. In April 2022, the College announced that they would return Occum’s papers back to the Mohegan Tribe. In June of that year, the College dedicated $100 million towards the Tribal Service and Solutions Project, aimed at helping tribal communities with increased economic development and addressing inequities.