I wrote this at 3 a.m.
By Kathleen Mayer
Published on Friday, February 18, 2011
I remember coming here freshman year and being stunned by how white everyone was. Yeah, maybe this is the sink calling the toilet porcelain, but coming from Atlanta, it was unsettling at first. But within weeks I forgot about the issue, allowing myself to enjoy the freedom from all those uneasy and uncomfortable discussions and thoughts about race that were extremely frequent during my high school days (and actually forced upon us during my high school’s annual “Race Day”).
I let these things become invisible to me. It’s easy — the size of the black community at Dartmouth is small enough to become a sort of “special interest” group in the eyes of the administration, whose goals regarding said community seem to fall somewhere between appeasement and flat-out indifference. Oh, someone’s mad that the only students on the search committee for the new dean of the College are Greek-affiliated white students? Let’s throw some minorities on there and call it a day. College President Jim Yong Kim is speaking at Cutter-Shabazz about the exodus of black faculty and staff members, and he doesn’t have answers for anyone? Filibuster us with barely related topics so there’s little time for questions. Blame it on the cold weather and remind us you’ve faced racism too, even though said faculty and staff members have repeatedly indicated that the problem wasn’t Hanover but the administration’s lack of support for their ideas and vision of making the school a place for every student. Challenge us to do it ourselves, because yeah, you’re right, students don’t care any more than the administration for the most part. Does that excuse you, as our leader?
I’m not discussing the theme of Dartmouth “by the numbers” because all those people with a tiny slice of the pie chart stop mattering. The people who graduate and go on to give exorbitant donations to the College are the ones who matter the most to the administration, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that those people are the ones who most enjoyed their time here. The ones who were never made to feel marginalized. The ones who were chosen for important committees and were the presidents of their fraternities and hung banners out their windows saying “Cohogs Go Home” and who, 40 years later, come back to play pong with 19-year-old girls in their old dirty basement. Some of the ones who run the school today. Just take a look at the Board of Trustees.
Here’s a number for you: 100 million. That’s how many dollars the College invested in the private firms of members of the Board of Trustees from 2005 to 2010 (according to a report by Tellus Institute, a research and advocacy group in Boston, cited in the May 20, 2010 edition of BusinessWeek). Yes, you read that right: The Trustees basically take money out of one piggy bank on the bookshelf and put it in another piggy bank by the bedside table, much like my six-year-old brother does. Except his second piggy bank doesn’t then proceed to accrue more money due to post-investment growth. We take care of Our People. And who are our people? What are the demographics of our Board members, and who do you think they care about?
President Kim lets us know who he cares about. He sends out campus-wide blitzes asking us to support the football team, but has he EVER sent out a blitz in support of a theater production or a panel like Women of Dartmouth or Men of Dartmouth? The revival of our football team as the powerhouse in the Ivy League would be the recovery of an important hallmark of the traditional (read: good ol’ boys’) Dartmouth experience. Such a revival would jumpstart our gasping budget with alumni donations. Having a great theater department? Not so much. I’m sorry, but sometimes listening to fond recollections about our hallowed traditions and watching students vigorously stamp their feet at the line “Lest the old traditions fail” in our alma mater strikes me as implicitly sinister as listening to my grandmother talk about the good old days of the 1950s (you can almost hear her saying, “ … before all that integration nonsense”).
When we lovingly hearken back to the traditions of the past that some of us hold dear, we inevitably endorse a world that actively shuts out some class of less privileged people. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to football games, but think about the priorities of this school as they are expressed through administrative action. Think about why the College seems to privilege certain aspects of our school as cornerstones of “The Dartmouth Experience,” while completely ignoring others, allotting them miserable funding and doing nothing to stop them from disintegrating entirely.
Why is it that leaders and role models for underrepresented communities at Dartmouth — including acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears, Assistant Dean of Undergraduate Students Colleen Larimore and Samantha Ivery, assistant dean of student life, advisor to black students and acting director of the Center for Women and Gender — are leaving with no explanation and no attempt by the administration to prioritize the concerns they care about? Why are these leaders bringing their luggage out to the sidewalk while Jim Kim just keeps watching TV and reminds them not to let the door hit them on the way out?
Is his recommendation for students dealing with the daily frustrations of a community in which they are treated as both “invisible and hyper-visible,” (to use Ivery’s words) simply to shrug off these instances and live without leaders who could possibly help them find active representation in a community in which they are always “othered”? Why should some students be made to feel as if they are only being tolerated or appeased instead of welcomed and valued? How many people have to resign before Kim, too, puts principle ahead of politics?
I don’t mean to focus all of the blame on Kim. When he first got here, he was an “outsider” by all accounts. Most would claim they were referring to his lack of previous history with Dartmouth, but there was also a clear undertone that he was somehow not quite like the others. It makes sense that, coming to the hest of this College when we were facing the need to make budget cuts of $100 million, he would at first struggle and face criticism. He needed to win the support and faith of many important people. I understand the value of political moves at times. But by putting so much of his focus on the values of the more prestigious and “insider group” of the Dartmouth community in order to understand the traditional expectations of his noble position as president of Dartmouth College, he has failed to stand for principles that could inspire all of the students he is supposed to lead. In turn, he has served to only further diminish the representation of already underrepresented groups on campus.
If I didn’t write this, my life would go on great at Dartmouth, a college that I can’t deny I love. But sometimes it’s hard having it easy, because I can forget about everyone but myself. I think that’s why our school is so romanticized by alums to an extent beyond any other school I’ve heard of — it lets you forget. It cultivates the folly and blissful self-centeredness of youth, but one must grow up sometime. We all do, and with the little time I have left, I want to start caring again. So for once, I wanted to drop the self-indulgence and the sarcasm and write about Dartmouth. Our Dartmouth. Mine and yours.