Over 120 community leaders gathered in Dartmouth Hall for an invitation-only summit last night to discuss ways to end harmful behavior, including sexual violence, high-risk drinking and exclusion in campus social spaces. The summit, which College President Phil Hanlon announced in a campus-wide email Wednesday afternoon, included speeches and breakout sessions for discussion and brainstorming.
Hanlon also announced the creation of a presidential steering committee of students, faculty, administrators and alumni that will examine the three areas of harmful behavior he identified. The committee, whose members will be named in April, will present its findings at the November Board of Trustees meeting. The board will decide on a course of action.
Hanlon condemned hazing, racism and sexism in his speech. “Dartmouth’s promise is being hijacked by extreme and harmful behaviors masked by its perpetrators as acceptable fun,” Hanlon said. “Enough is enough.”
These behaviors have divided the community, distracted it from learning and teaching and harmed the College’s reputation, he said, mentioning the recent drop in application numbers and the ongoing Title IX investigation.
Trustee Laurel Richie ’81 said that the processes of change and improvement must be inclusive, mirroring the culture that the committee aspires to create.
“Our success tonight is not measured by what we do in the next hour, but our collective ability to open doors and welcome all who have the passion for moving Dartmouth forward,” she said.
Hanlon also emphasized that it is important for the process not to be seen as a top-down approach.
Professor of Spanish, Latin American, Latino and Caribbean studies, women’s and gender studies and comparative literature Rebecca Biron said in a speech that Dartmouth students fear social exclusion. She described meeting with students from diverse backgrounds who said that they felt like they did not belong at the College.
“We need to rewrite the fear story about the Dartmouth community,” Biron said. “Fact: everyone who is here belongs here. Fact: there is no one who is here that belongs here more than anyone else. Everyone is an equally valuable member of the community.”
Reflecting on his time at the College, trustee Jeffrey Immelt ’78 said that an institution is defined by its culture and Dartmouth must ensure that its own is strong and positive.
“The culture I remember is one where every student could strive to be the best but never lose touch with their humanity,” Immelt said. “That culture didn’t include excessive behavior or ostracizing others or hurting each other. Our culture has to stand for the things that are aspirational about our school.”
Richie said some of the challenges that students currently face are similar to the ones she faced as an African-American woman at the College, but she said she is optimistic that Dartmouth will change.
Hanlon said while many in higher education think endemic issues like high-risk drinking and sexual assault cannot be solved, he is optimistic.
“Dartmouth will prove them wrong,” he said. “Dartmouth will take the lead in American education by taking campus life to a safe, sustainable place. I speak for the community when I say, we welcome the high expectations. And we will deliver.”
Hanlon noted steps that the College has taken to address many campus issues. These include the creation of the Dartmouth Bystander Initiative, the new sexual assault policy proposal and initiatives that have led to a downward trajectory in dangerous drinking at the College.
“This is progress, great progress, but we must not confuse it with success,” he said.
In a brief address to the room, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said the summit was just a first step in the process of changing the College, which will require “incredible energy.”
Esteban Castaño ’14, founder of Dartmouth Roots, said in a speech that the summit was successful in coming up with new ideas. Dartmouth Roots, a student group that started Improve Dartmouth, facilitated small group breakout sessions that occurred between two blocks of speeches.
Students interviewed said the group discussions were productive.
Student body vice president-elect Frank Cunningham ’16 said he hopes other students will share his excitement about ideas discussed at the summit.
“I think that, right now, students of Dartmouth should be eager to try change,” Cunningham said. “We should keep a positive mindset and be open to ideas and concepts.”
He said he would like to extend such discussions to the rest of campus.
Mathematics professor Alex Barnett said in an email that he did not think the summit was truly about creating inclusivity. Safety and Security members were present at the door and invitees’ names were checked against a list at the door.
Barnett was turned away and said he was told that the room was over capacity. He said he found his experience frustrating because he has been involved in student life issues in the past, adding that he felt the event’s exclusivity was unnecessary and “deeply ironic.”
Taylor Cathcart ’15, who attended the event, said the discussions’ private atmosphere made it possible for participants to truly engage with the proposed ideas.
“There was a really good focus on proposing ideas as opposed to shooting them down,” he said. “People were more willing to speak their minds instead of just adopting positions that they had always held.”
Attendee Rachel Funk ’15 said her breakout group discussed the potential of trying to make student life more spontaneous, resembling the often-random social interactions of freshman year.
Students interviewed declined to provide information on specific ideas discussed during group discussions, which were closed to the press.