No, I Won't Transfer Schools Just Because Dartmouth Can't Handle Discrimination
A week ago last night, a group of my fellow students occupied Dartmouth. Most of them stayed till morning – many for 48 hours – in the office of the president, demanding a point-by-point response to their Freedom Budget, a set of 72 proposals that seeks to "eliminate systems of oppression including racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism and ableism" on campus.
Every American college has its fair share of these kinds of discrimination. Ivy League colleges such as Dartmouth are no exception. And the university campus is a longtime fount of worldwide activism,even lately.
Not every college reacts quite like Dartmouth – or gets as much attention. But everyone should be paying attention to the recent uproar here, for exposing students from all corners of my campus to institutional discrimination and bias in ways few students from the majority ever have to confront. We must understand the perspectives of our most marginalized members before passing judgment on their actions.
I have been harmed by misguided policies. My freshman-year roommate's homophobia created a hostile climate for me during my first term at Dartmouth. Despite my best efforts, with the full support of my floormates, to have the housing office re-assign him, Dartmouth did the opposite: the college moved me to an upperclassman dorm.
If I had only hidden or suppressed my sexuality, I thought then, maybe my college wouldn't have broken me apart from my first-year friends, some of the most important I might have ever made.
This situation is not unique to Dartmouth. Last week at Harvard, a survivor of sexual assault wrote in the school paper that after months of complaints, Harvard administrators couldn't move out her alleged assailant from the house they shared – they could only move her out instead. Harvard says it’s "moving to address" the problem.
"Whenever anyone reports a manifestation of structural oppression, the college does little or nothing to address that structure," Dartmouth senior Anna Winham told me the other day. That conflict resolution – or lack thereof – is what motivated her to participate in last week's sit-in. Racism, sexism and sexual assault motivated many others. Such issues should motivate students at every campus, but the lack of a personal connection encourages students to instead criticize those who seek justice.
The administration adopted a similar approach over the course of the two-day sit-in. Winham explained that rules changed constantly, often to make it more difficult for students to stay in the president's office. Administrators kept "telling [us] to respect our elders and apologize," she told me. Then Dartmouth's dean signed an exit agreement, promising that the administration would organize "action meetings" and conduct a third-party "campus climate" review.
The Freedom Budget movement has sparked conversations about what constitutes appropriate campus advocacy, with some students from the not-so-silent majority of Dartmouth decrying the protestors as showing a"lack of respect for administrators". Even the Wall Street Journal editorial board suggested over the weekend that our president and trustees"should now tell the students that if they are so unhappy they should transfer".
Since when do the victims have to get up and leave just for getting up and protesting?
This mentality is unhealthy for college communities. This is misplaced criticism of basic activism. This affirms institutionalized harm. All when there is opportunity for the administrators to meaningfully engage the discriminators and the discriminated-upon. All when administrators tell protesters to know their role. All of this in college, where you're supposed to speak your mind.
Senior Abigail Macias told me that throughout the sit-in, Dartmouth's president "painted us to ourselves as bullies and aggressors", even though "the reason we were in the room is so many violent things have been done to us and our friends".
My freshman floormates may or may not see the parallel between the push by the Dartmouth protesters and the administrative policies that pushed me and the victim at Harvard away from our friends. But we all shared a story, hoping that social justice becomes a more apparent necessity in communities around the country. And we are not transferring.