AKA an Improvement

The College’s decision to permit Alpha Kappa Alpha — a historically African American sorority — to return to campus is a wise one, but not for the reasons that were predictably emphasized in Tuesday’s article about the reaction to our latest Greek addition (“Students Weigh Social Impact of AKA’s Return,” Feb. 5).

Whether from short-sightedness or ego, the student body has a habit — as The Dartmouth’s coverage both reflects and perpetuates — of putting on blinders to focus on the campus issue of the moment. Despite the profundity and prescience of the current dialogues over gender at Dartmouth, AKA’s lasting impact at Dartmouth College will not be its contribution to the proliferation of female “social spaces.” Not even a little bit.

AKA’s greater legacy — if its sisterhood realizes and accepts the challenge — could be its contributions to the creation of an actually diverse campus, something that the College has struggled to accomplish. AKA, from a utilitarian perspective, can be a potent recruiting tool for attracting African-American students and — more importantly — faculty, as well as other minority groups.

This is not to say that AKA will not contribute to campus life, for it most certainly will. AKA has a strong track record on campus both in terms of programming and individual accomplishment. And, undoubtedly, it offers a group of women (albeit a rather small one) from an underrepresented minority the opportunity to build a tight-knit sub-community.

The leverage and lobbying power that AKA can offer, however, will enhance far more students’ lives than the sisterhood and its events ever could, notably because Dartmouth has demonstrated impotency in recruiting and retaining minority faculty in recent years, and not necessarily because of the administration.

Hanover is a hard sell for many people; schools in big cities like New York, Boston and Philadelphia are more appealing for a host of reasons. For minorities, the sell is even harder because Hanover is predominantly old and white, and our campus has historically been young and white. The latter, however, is changing noticeably, and another institution outside the College’s administration — the Office of Pluralism and Leadership is part of the college bureaucracy — can fuel a positive change like this one.

We have two African American fraternities, as well as three Greek Latino organizations; the revival of AKA will represent a different niche of students who have proven in the past to be constructive members of the campus. Hopefully they can find a way to connect with potential faculty hires through existing organizations.

Academicians, more than any other people on campus, can be catalysts for diversity — or at least they should be. Most formative experiences at our College occur outside of Silsby, Sudikoff or Steele — rather, they happen in the Hopkins Center, the Connecticut River or Alpha Delta fraternity (just ask Kevin Bacon). But classroom experiences often provide the intellectual context and personal connections that lay the groundwork for growth outside of cla3ss. While seminars with students and professors of different ethnicities don’t guarantee a better experience, they have the potential to do so.

Ultimately, this addition could represent an important step for the College toward its long-term aspiration to become an institution that, as the mission statement reads, “embraces diversity with the knowledge that it significantly enhances the quality of a Dartmouth education.”

I hope that AKA, as well as the other minority-affiliated organizations on campus, make efforts to become actively engaged in the faculty recruitment process. It is easier to meet with administrators as well as prospective professors on visits to Hanover with an organization behind you. With both men and women now represented formally, the lobbying voice for a diversity of professors across all departmental fields has to be stronger than it was before.

Dartmouth does not need more superficial efforts to achieve diversity. We need qualified professors who represent different heritages within all of our departments. Where before the College has failed, a stronger, proactive voice from students, including new addition AKA, can hope to work towards success — even if they don’t revolutionize the social spaces on campus.

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