Dickey Center campus email incites backlash

The Dickey Center for International Understanding’s event “Your World, Your Voice: Dartmouth Students as Thought Leaders” that was set to take place on April 18 was canceled in response to student complaints regarding the language used in the email advertising the event.

In an effort to address concerns over race and gender issues on campus, the Dickey Center is instead holding a community discussion moderated by the Office of Pluralism and Leadership on April 9.

The event planned to showcase professors’ involvement in the Op-Ed Project, a nationwide initiative that trains women and minority professionals to write opinion columns on their areas of expertise. Men comprise 80 to 90 percent of newspaper opinion submissions, a statistic that the Op-Ed Project intends to address by encouraging more women to contribute.

While the Op-Ed Project’s website indicates a focus on increasing women’s contributions to public discourse, Dartmouth’s panelists include women as well as male minority professors, Dickey Center associate director Christianne Wohlforth said.

The Op-Ed Project was brought to Dartmouth by English professor Colleen Boggs and government professor Jennifer Lind to encourage College professors to share their works in public forums. Around 20 are involved in the Op-Ed Project.

“All of the participants in the program have found it to be so incredibly empowering and exciting,” Wohlforth said. “We really wanted to share this with students.”

The project’s participants prepared an advertisement for the event, which the Dickey Center then emailed to students.

Students, however, felt the email made hasty assumptions about minority groups when it said that the event would focus particularly on “people who do not as often speak out namely, women and men of color.”

Quoting the Dickey Center email, Afro-American Society president Nikkita McPherson ’13 said in an email that the false assumption that people of color “do not often speak out” or “contribute” to public discourse is “degrading and downright offensive to the individuals and groups of color that tirelessly offer value to campus dialogue and issues.” A full message will be sent to campus with an invitation to discuss the campus climate on racial issues, McPherson said in the email.

Wohlforth said the Dickey Center and participants in the Op-Ed Project were surprised by the negative student responses.

“It’s ironic that they themselves being women and minorities would see this kind of backlash,” Wolhforth said. “Here they were thinking they were offering a gift of their time and talent.”

Wohlforth said that students may be particularly “sensitive” to racial and gender issues due to the number of racist incidents that took place last term, which ignited campus conversation about race at Dartmouth.

“It’s not that the ad itself was so heinous, but that the environment wasn’t conducive for having this kind of conversation,” she said. “I’m hoping students who took offense will come to an understanding that this was a well-intentioned project, and that maybe their response was incommensurate with the infelicity of the language.”

Many minority students, however, feel that the inability to understand why the email was offensive reflects a broader and more pervasive campus issue of ignorance and insensitivity, said Sadia Hassan ’13, intern for the office of black student advising.

“The Op-Ed Project is not a bad project, but the fact that they are shifting the blame on us and saying that we’re misinterpreting their message is irresponsible,” she said.

While Wohlforth said she hopes to hold the event at a “less sensitive” time in the future and that the problem currently rests in the “sensitivity” of the campus climate, Hassan said the assumptions made in the Dickey Center’s email would not be appropriate in any situation.

“Even if we haven’t had a bias incident in three terms, that would not make it okay to send an email targeting a group of students assuming that they do not have the abilities to engage in public discourse,” Hassan said.

Boggs and Lind were unavailable to comment by press time.

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