Afterthoughts on Our Panels Coverage

Triangle House at Dartmouth, the scene of the Intersectionality panel that Mr. Farkas dared to respectfully attend.

Triangle House at Dartmouth, the site of the Queer People of Color panel that Mr. Farkas dared to respectfully attend.

Reactionaries though we are, we at The Review have always made a point to follow every twist and turn in the campus conversation to its root. There is probably no less apt metaphor for our mission than an “ivory tower.” We’ve never ignored our peers with whom we tend to disagree, or sat around trading wisecracks about their opinions. Instead, we spring out of our armchairs week after week to go get a hold of what they really believe, and then try to drive the conversation forward on our printed pages.

It was in this spirit that Executive Editor Sandor Farkas ‘17 ventured out to two student panels last spring. At the Queer People of Color (QPOC) on Gay Marriage and Intersectionality panels, Mr. Farkas recorded the participants’ unfiltered words alongside his own reactions. The result was our October 28 piece titled “Finding a Place at Dartmouth: Thoughts on the Diversity Panels,” a critique of the perspective and language that a group of vocal students use to describe life at Dartmouth today.

On November 5, The Dartmouth columnist Nicole Simineri ’17 summed up a lot of the reactions our critique has received from students within the panelists’ circle. As always, The Review is delighted to see a conversation we’ve taken part in continue forward. But we also can’t help but take issue with Simineri’s approach. In fact, the issues with her column begin in its title, the pointed “This is Not Your Space” in reference to Mr. Farkas’s attendance of the panels.

It is this very attitude that Mr. Farkas sought to combat. While Ms. Simineri mistakenly categorized Mr. Farkas’s attitude toward the existence of the panels as “annoyed,” his actual intention was to encourage students who might not usually attend such panels to give them a chance, and engage with their peers with whom they disagree. When Mr. Farkas did so himself, he found that his presence was not welcome. His mere affiliation with The Review made him the subject of a mocking photo uploaded to Facebook, despite his not uttering a peep at the meeting beyond introducing himself. This closed-circle attitude adopted by the panelists was the main focus of Mr. Farkas’s critique.

At the core of Mr. Farkas’s critique was the panelists’ insistence on defining themselves in opposition to other students. He zeroed in on their denunciation of Dartmouth’s institutional “whiteness,” conceding that the College is still shaped by traditional WASP culture, but pointing out that wealth and preppy clothes don’t amount to the “oppression” that Dartmouth’s discontents suggest. And if their mission isn’t to roll back mainstream culture, but rather to promote understanding of minorities’ concerns, then their approach on that front isn’t much better. As Mr. Farkas recorded, “educate your damned self!” was one panelist’s advice to white and straight students who are curious about the QPOC perspective.

This approach to campus discourse has a certain appeal. By creating a vernacular of insular terms and barring access to the uninitiated, these students are able to use their “enlightened” status as a trump card. “If someone calls you out, you need to sit down, you need to shut up, and you need to listen,” demanded yet another panelist. Why bring Mr. Farkas and others into the conversation, when you could just bully them into guiltily deferring to your personal experience?

Mr. Farkas’s claim that the panelists share responsibility for their grievances about Dartmouth was based on this preference to criticize rather than engage. In a community of reasonable and sympathetic peers, they forego their opportunity to grow mutual understanding by antagonizing every non-“ally” right off the bat.

To give Ms. Simineri and Mr. Farkas’s other critics the benefit of the doubt, we’ll assume that their objections to his presence were not vis-a-vis his white maleness, but rather because he dared to disagree with students who did have the proper underprivileged credentials. Their premise, then, must be that an open conversation on diversity is only “open” to students who share their analysis of Dartmouth’s issues. This is no surprise. Our critics’ insistence on “diversity” is often revealed to be an inch deep once we dive past race and orientation toward a diversity of opinions.

Ms. Simineri’s final criticism regarded Mr. Farkas’s preference for civility, suggesting that his reference to the panelists’ anger was a racist appeal to “angry black woman” imagery. The Review agrees that chiding a passionate speaker for her anger is unsavory and unfair, so long as her anger is genuine and justified. But we don’t think that Mr. Farkas was leaping to his conclusion when he detected that the anger in these rooms was largely misplaced, formed by dwelling on the injustices that take place in the greater public and misattributing them to Dartmouth. We (reluctantly) grant that the College isn’t perfect, but don’t think it’s too much to ask dissatisfied students to ratchet down their zeal when discussing “microaggressions” as opposed to, say, police brutality.

Ms. Simineri’s conclusion of “This is Not Your Space” summed up the misguidedness of her attack just as neatly as her title:

No privileged group is entitled to minority groups’ spaces or time. If a white, heterosexual, cisgendered man who shares Farkas’ views seeks spaces where he can be fully and completely comfortable, then he need only walk outside — and I would be happy to show him the door.

By her telling, what were advertised as open panels to spark public discussion were actually private spaces for suitably underprivileged students to swap stories among themselves. We gladly accept Ms. Simineri’s offer to show our staffers the door at the end of such events, but we’re just as pleased to assure our readers that we’ve not been persuaded that our proper place is on the outside. The Review will always be back knocking again, ready to cover every corner of the Dartmouth story, savory and otherwise.