Vox Clamantis: A Pernicious Culture

To the Editor:

As the snow finally falls, I write to express both dismay and fury over yet another round of cruelty and violence displayed on Bored at Baker. And I write, to be clear, not only in response to this incident but also to decry and condemn a culture of hostility and violence that produces and reproduces such immoral and sickening incidents.

I received emails from several students on Tuesday informing me of a Bored at Baker posting that names a member of the Class of 2017, identifies where she lives and urges readers to rape her. The email I received included a screenshot of the post, which had been removed by the time I had subscribed and visited the site. The post, by now probably known about in every corner of campus, is being referred to as a “rape guide,” and it is, indeed, just that: a step-by-step guide to finding and raping this individual woman. The appropriate administrators are doing their jobs to investigate this matter and provide support to the student. I have no such responsibility, so I am responding as a member of our community.

The students (and several other faculty members) who contacted me called for action. Speaking up is one form of action. I urge every student leader, every department or office chair or director and every administrative leader to do at least that: publicly condemn such hostile acts and recognize them as symptomatic of the broader sociocultural problem of sexism and its many manifestations in our community. Dartmouth has harnessed a great many resources in recent months to combat sexual assault, and this is, indeed, a good thing. But it is not enough. No bystander training program, no committee, no first-responder training or added staff positions will stop rape or transform a culture that accepts and even promotes it.

What will move our campus toward such a transformation is for each one of us, harnessing the positions of authority and moments of opportunity available to us, to adopt a zero-tolerance stance in the face of bigotry, harassment and assault. Our responsibility is to recognize and resist not just sexism but all forms of bias and discrimination, bullying and hostility. People of color, queer people, people from poor communities, indeed all of us who do not conform to default definitions of normative citizenry in this community, have been or are at risk for being targeted.

As Bored at Baker makes quite clear, many people cheer on the haters as others stand with those attacked. We are not faced with the problem of isolated incidents or rogue individuals gone off on rampages. Institutional report after report, incident after incident, campus outrage after campus outrage make plain that Dartmouth has a broader and more complex problem than such characterizations would suggest.

I close by reminding us all that the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is investigating Dartmouth’s compliance with Title IX. Any member of this community can talk with them, in confidence, about any instances of sex or gender related discrimination. The investigators, I have been told, also welcome and will report back to their office information about bias or discrimination related to, as their materials outline, race, color, national origin, disability, age and religion.

Use whatever tools available to do the right thing: speak up, act out, resist.

Giavanna Munafo

Women’s and gender studies professor

Former director, Center for Gender and Student Engagement

 

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