Dartmouth is a special community marked by a belief that civility and mutual respect enable people to learn from each other. We recognize, though, that our community is not immune from those occasional conflicts rooted in misunderstanding, ignorance, acts of intolerance or conduct that is inconsiderate or harmful. A number of recent incidents have caused some to raise questions about members of our community and our shared culture and values. I am writing to address these recent incidents and to comment on personal responsibility and our options as a community.
First, there was a report of an alleged bias incident that took place on Tuesday, Nov. 4 sometime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. A resident of the Mass Row-Hitchcock Cluster found the following phrase written in black marker on her door: “you are gay.” A member of the residential staff spoke with the student and reported the incident to senior administrators and Safety and Security. Residents of Mass Row-Hitchcock were notified to encourage dialogue and community responsibility. Second, a number of students have written to different administrators to express concern about a skit that they found offensive that was performed at an Aires concert on Wednesday evening, Nov. 12. The skit involved two black students and two white students, with the black students trying to teach the white students to dance followed by the white students trying to teaching the black students to spell “cat” and claiming they were trying to teach the black students white culture. Third, on Sunday, Nov. 16 at 7:15 p.m., Safety and Security reported that a custodian had been called to clean vomit on the first floor men’s bathroom in Hitchcock. When they arrived there was graffiti on two separate mirrors, one reading “Montreal 4.15″ and the other “NIGAA.” Safety and Security took pictures of the graffiti and notified administrators. Fourth, a friend of a UGA, a white student was called the “n word” twice on Saturday, Nov. 15. Residents in these residence halls have been notified.
These incidents have proved hurtful to members of our community. As a person committed to fairness, respect and openness, I object to actions that demean or threaten any person. We do not have a speech code at Dartmouth, nor do we want one. So we must affirm on a daily basis the need for people to be accountable for their speech and actions. Our purpose must be to learn from our actions and to help each other understand and address any harm that might be experienced.
Fortunately, the actions taken by students and administrators in response to the Aires skit represented a step forward in our ability to respond to difficult issues. On Thursday evening, the Black Leadership Council, a group of leaders of black student organizations, met with members of Aires for 90 minutes to discuss the controversial skit. Dawn Hemphill and Tommy Lee Woon from the Office of Pluralism and Leadership helped to coordinate and facilitate the meeting that 25 students attended. Aires explained that their intention was to exaggerate stereotypes to ridicule the stereotypes. They apologized for the skit and proposed a second meeting to plan a public forum where they could offer a formal apology and respond to questions. While everyone who attended did not leave fully satisfied with the discussion, I applaud these actions and the personal responsibility that was taken, and I encourage more of these types of constructive discussions.
We were able to intervene quickly and engage students in dialogue because we have been studying bias response systems and we are testing elements of these response systems this year. This is something that many students and staff have worked on in recent years. We have learned that alleged and real bias incidents can be effectively addressed when community members make prompt reports to campus officers who can then coordinate follow-up. We have begun to identify some important guiding principles and I invite you to support them:
** Safety — maintaining safety for all.
** Prevention — early detection, reporting and implementation of follow-up protocols.
** Education — promoting respect and appreciation for diversity.
** Civic dialogue — encouraging dialogue and free speech to strengthen community.
** Communication — coordinating communication to ensure timely and accurate reporting.
** Collective responsibility — mobilizing all the good will and good intentions that exist here.
** Community caring — letting people affected know they are not alone.
Please contact any administrator or staff when you have concerns to share or information to report.
Bias-related incidents and misunderstanding plague our society. They will not disappear until the deeper causes of inequity, alienation, pathology and scapegoating are overcome. Acts of intolerance require a response that asks all members of our community to uphold our shared values and principles of community. While acts of intolerance frequently fall beyond the reach of laws and codes of conduct, they can be addressed through our willingness to respond as members of a community who work to mobilize the abundant goodwill that exists here. To do so, we might keep President Wright’s message close to us: “let’s honor Dartmouth’s oldest and strongest tradition — watching out for each other.”