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The Dartmouth
June 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

TTLG: A Brave Space, If We Can Keep It

Former Opinion editor Thomas Lane ’24 reflects on his time running the Opinion section during global and local turmoil.

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As a German major, I’ve learned about the student protests that swept Germany in the late 1960s more times than I can count. Most Americans are aware of the related protests that occurred in the U.S. around the same time, which were largely in response to the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Fewer, though, know about their European counterparts. In Germany, these protests were in part fueled by anger towards the Vietnam War, but their primary focus was the lack of critical reflection in German society on its past Nazism. At the time, it had not even been 30 years since Hitler lost power.

My sophomore year, one of my professors displayed a photo in class that has always stuck with me. In it, a group of students from the University of Hamburg, some of whom are dressed in the traditional German academic regalia seen at graduations, are holding up a large banner with the phrase “Unter den Talaren, Muff von 1,000 Jahren” — under the gowns, the scent of 1,000 years — a reference to Hitler’s frequent declaration that Nazi Germany would be a thousand-year empire. The students hoisted this then-highly controversial banner at the ceremony inaugurating the university’s new president. It was quite the brave space for the university’s faculty and administrators, to say the least.

When I started editing for the Opinion section at The Dartmouth, I never expected to witness the start of a movement reminiscent of the protests of the late 1960s. Nor did I expect to be running one of the few real “brave spaces” on campus, documenting how this movement has impacted campus. However, that’s exactly what seems to have happened. When two student protestors were arrested for staging a sit-in last fall on the lawn outside Parkhurst Hall protesting the College’s refusal to divest from Israel, I found myself suddenly thrust into the center of the debate. 

Ultimately, those of us on the Editorial Board decided that we should keep the paper a neutral space and not use the Board to take a direct stand on international issues then, even though it personally impacted many students on campus. By doing so, we were able to keep the Opinion section a space where contributors could share their views freely, provided they were based on facts and did not harass or otherwise unfairly target members of the community. What is most important in my eyes, however, is that by reserving the spotlight for our student columnists and guest contributors, we were able to foster conversations that otherwise would not have been possible.

In retrospect, I’m very glad we did so, because we ended up being one of the few venues where meaningful debate was able to take place on campus last fall. Obviously, we were not alone in that attempt. When President Sian Leah Beilock was inaugurated last summer, she promised to make campus “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.” After all, Beilock brought the term “brave space” to campus, which played a prominent role in her inaugural address. But in the end, I believe one of the few things everyone can agree on is that it was not her who fulfilled that promise.

What the Dartmouth administration created have more been what I would call captive spaces than brave ones. While many of the College’s brave space-related events were indeed informative, especially those led by Dartmouth’s highly knowledgeable faculty, they felt misguided. In my view, they were aimed at attracting positive national press coverage rather than at providing a venue for Dartmouth students to express themselves. College-sponsored forums never took off among the student body because they were hosted by an institution which many students believed was only interested in sanitized debate. This was proven by the administration’s demonstration that it would call in the police when that debate became too inconvenient for them. At one point, the College even resorted to giving out $10 gift cards to try to get students to attend a Dialogue Project event.

Students noticed the hypocrisy, so they came to The Dartmouth instead. We worked with them to publish arguments on all sides of the spiraling debate that had engulfed campus. We made the utmost effort to do thorough fact-checking and to maintain our neutrality. That did not mean shying away from difficult topics but, as I had to explain to many writers, any factual claims that couldn’t be verified also couldn’t be published. Believe me, I would much rather not have spent my time fact-checking claims of atrocities as they occurred in real time. But only through doing so could we remain a viable forum for meaningful conversations in the future.

My time as editor ended this past winter, as roles were passed off to the next directorate. It was my successors who mediated the even greater uproar that came after President Beilock's actions led to the presence of riot police on the Green on May 1. But because of the institutional experience that we had all gained managing this sort of community response beforehand, I was confident that the new directorate could once again provide the neutral but brave space campus needed. I was not let down. They’ve published countless insightful pieces coming from all corners of the Dartmouth community and representing just about all sides of the ongoing debate that can be backed up by verifiable facts. My trust in them even allowed me to muster up the courage to share my own hometown community’s experience with police violence — painful memories which up until now, I have frankly tried harder to forget than reflect on during my four years here.

Again, these standards have not meant shying away from tough topics nor embracing censorship. The only responses my successors at the Opinion section haven’t published is the hate mail they’ve sadly received. Like it or not, no meaningful dialogue happens in a vacuum where everyone walks out happy. Will anything that happens in Hanover bring peace to the world, or even just alter the trajectory of international affairs? No, probably not. But, I think the community has learned plenty through the forum our newspaper has been able to provide. That’s what I believe truly matters most. I hope we can keep it, and I won’t ever forget these experiences, both bitter and sweet.

Thomas Lane ’24 is a former Opinion editor. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.

Correction Appended (May 22, 1:04 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that College President Sian Leah Beilock sent in riot police during the May 1 protests. Beilock called the Hanover Police Department, who determined police staffing and tactical approach. The article has been corrected.


Thomas Lane

Thomas Lane '24 is a former Opinion editor.