Verbum Ultimum: Past the P.R. Speak

At 11:22 a.m. on the Friday of Winter Carnival, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson emailed campus about a Jan. 10 Bored at Baker post that outlined the steps one should take to rape a female member of the Class of 2017. Within 20 minutes, the Office of Public Affairs published a press release announcing a new center for prevention of sexual assault.

The press release claims “the new center reflects Dartmouth’s commitment to confront the national scourge of sexual violence on college campuses.” It doesn’t.

The press release touts the College as “a leader in developing culture-changing strategies.” It isn’t.

In the aftermath of yet another potential public relations nightmare — compounded by the precipitous decline in applications for the Class of 2018 — the new resource center is nothing more than a fig leaf.

It is time for the College to take a proactive and preventative, rather than reactive and crisis-based, stance on sexual assault policy. Carefully constructed releases can only do so much to preserve appearances, and do precious little to improve the quality of student life.

The past year has seen the administration struggle to respond to concerns about campus climate. Students, alumni, faculty and even the Office for Civil Rights have expressed misgivings about the administration’s commitment to student safety.

And yet paralysis rules the roost in Parkhurst.

Instead of solving problems, Dartmouth is rebranding. These are issues that cannot be solved with spin.

The College’s P.R. machine pushes the center as a mark of Dartmouth’s leadership on the issue — but this is a bogus claim. It’s a simple repackaging of existing programs. And it has been suggested time and time again. The Student and Presidential Committee on Sexual Assault proposed such a center years ago. Dartmouth Change, a nonprofit alumni and faculty group concerned with sexual assault issues on campus, offered to fund a center, but was rebuffed by Johnson, who said comprehensive services were already in place.

Now, in the midst of bad press and the wake of another campus scandal, the College offers up a new acronym to learn.

Why fix problems when snowy pictures of the Green look so great under a Mayfair filter on Instagram? Or when a January visit by OCR investigators can be buried in the middle of the campus digest email, sent daily at 1 a.m., under a post advertising a “tropical lunch”?

It is clear that the administration needs to do more to address the ongoing issues at the College. Surface-level improvements and reshuffling existing resources do little, if anything, to address the root causes of the College’s problems. We deserve better from our school.

 

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