Dartmouth College Threatens To Discipline Students For Protesting Sexual Assault

In a campus-wide email sent out on Friday, Dartmouth College’s Board of Trustees Chair Steve Mandel appeared to equate the actions of sexual assault protesters with the subsequent death and rape threatsmade against them by several other Dartmouth students on anonymous online forums and message boards.

The threats materialized after students who allege that they have personally encountered sexual assault, homophobia, and racism on campus protested the Dartmouth administration’s inability to foster a safer environment during a prospective students’ event on April 19th. Dartmouth took the uncommon step of cancelling classes on Wednesday to address the growing crisis and the Board of Trustees released their latest email on Friday night as a follow up.

The email seeks to assure the student community that “established policies and procedures” regarding disciplinary action will be taken against both the protesters and any students who made the anonymous threats. It is reproduced in full below:

April 26, 2013
To the Dartmouth community:

As some of you know, a small group of students disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show for prospective students on Friday, April 19,using it as a platform to protest what they say are incidents of racism, sexual assault, and homophobia on campus. Following the protest, threats of bodily harm and discriminatory comments targeting the protesters and their defenders ran anonymously on various sites on the Internet.

With tensions high across the Dartmouth community, Interim President Carol Folt, the Dean of the Faculty, and other senior leaders across campus agreed that the best course of action was to suspend classes on Wednesday, April 24, for a day of reflection and alternative educational programming. This decision was made to address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months, at odds with Dartmouth’s Principles of Community.

This unusual and serious action to suspend classes for a day was prompted by concern that the dialogue on campus had reached a point that threatened to compromise the level of shared respect necessary for an academic community to thrive. The faculty and administration together determined that a pause to examine how the climate on campus can be improved was necessary. This was an important exercise that the Board supports. It is also important to note that there will be an opportunity for faculty to hold the classes that were missed as a result of Wednesday’s events.

Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community. As Interim President Folt indicated Wednesday in her remarks in front of Dartmouth Hall, the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.

Dartmouth is not unique in the challenges it faces concerning campus climate and student life. We aspire to lead in responding to these challenges.

The Trustees and I are committed to addressing and supporting efforts necessary to resolve these issues, improving the campus climate and strengthening the institution. The Board’s Committee on Student Affairs is working with senior leaders and consulting with outside professionals to make progress on this front.

Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions with me at Stephen.F.Mandel.Jr.78@Dartmouth.edu

Best regards,

Steve Mandel ’78, P’09, P’11
Chair, Board of Trustees

Although the email was likely distributed to quell tensions, its blanket language lumping the actions of student protesters with those making threats of physical harm against them as equivalent “declines in civility” are more likely to inflame them. The missive also glosses over the relevant detail that many of the protesters weren’t just speaking out against “what they say” are incidents of sexual assault, racism, and homophobia on campus — they are actually victims of those very crimes and social ills. The website Real Talk Dartmouth has chronicled the events that inspired the initial protest, as well as the hateful comments that some Dartmouth students have made in its aftermath.

Some administrators and students are upset with the protest because it occurred during a prospective students’ event that has traditional significance for the college. But the protesters likely felt compelled to take that extraordinary action given the Dartmouth administration’s historical incompetence in dealing with issues of sexual assault, homophobia, and racism on campus.

Note: the author of this article graduated from Dartmouth College in 2012.

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