An Interview With Dartmouth Change

Susie Struble ’93 discusses her work with Dartmouth Change.

Editor’s Note: Recently, The Dartmouth Review had the opportunity to speak with Susy Struble, the organizing member of Dartmouth Change. A member of the Class of 1993 and a concerned alumna, she cofounded the organization last year with the goal of understanding the extent of the sexual assault problem on Dartmouth’s campus and working with alumni, administrators, and current students to reduce its severity. The Review believes that the entire community would do well to listen to her calls for unity on the issue and data-driven policy changes. 

The Dartmouth Review (TDR): Could you please tell us a bit about Dartmouth Change and what you’ve been up to on campus since we last caught up with you? 

Susy Struble [Struble]: It’s great to chat with you and The Review. Since we spoke last spring, Dartmouth Change has been quite busy. We continue to try to be helpful where we can, and try to point out where we think the College is taking the right steps forward and where it is missing the boat. As an organization, we’ve got almost 700 supporters right now, so we’ve grown by a couple hundred in the past few months. Over the past year, we’ve been busy building up our network at the national level with some experts. They’ve been involved in these issues for much longer than we have, so we’re happy to have their expertise behind us. We’ve also been very clued in to what’s happening with the White House Task Force and the OCR as well as the new guidance that came out recently. … Overall, we think there is something positive to say about what’s been happening. [Dartmouth Change] is heartened that the administration keeps talking about [sexual assault], and that they’re taking the issue rather more seriously…. Despite this, we’re still a bit concerned that its response is driven more by media attention and concerns about its public perception than it is by a desire to get in there and tackle the root of the problem.

TDR: What do you and Dartmouth Change think about the newly proposed sexual assault policy? 

Struble: We’re pretty happy with it. That’s a definite bright spot—the fact that they are actually making some significant changes and moving the campus forward. But I have to say, it was pretty poorly written. It’s really hard not to see the quality of what they did as an indication of how seriously they’re taking this. When you look at it, [there are some] internal inconsistencies, and … it looks like it may have been put together in a slap-dash manner. They also even ignored one of the key recommendations coming out of their own Committee on Student Safety and Accountability (COSSA), which didn’t meet in the first place for seven months. When they finally got together last fall, one of the key things they published was a recommendation that Dartmouth update its sexual assault policy and create a minimum sanction guideline. This would require the College to suspend any individual that is found responsible for sexual assault after going through the College’s adjudication process. That’s just a very straightforward thing to do, and that wasn’t even included in the revised policy that they published a few weeks ago. So, while the rhetoric is that they’re doing the right thing and they keep claiming to be a national leader, that’s just totally unsupported by the facts.

TDR: What is the specific goal of Dartmouth Change and what makes your approach to the sexual assault problem on campus unique? 

Struble: I think that one of the things that defines us and makes us unique is that we’re a coalition of alumni, faculty, and students. That coalition helps us persuade the College to act more effectively to end campus sexual violence and assault. I don’t know if this kind of strategy has ever developed in Dartmouth’s history around these issues before. Advocacy usually comes from students or it comes from some faculty and its usually pretty crisis-oriented after something really egregious happens. By contrast, we believe that having coordination and having a consistent plan of recommendations from these core constituencies is a pretty important thing… The other thing that is unique about our perspective is that we really want the College to be honest about the data around this. We think first and foremost that there needs to be a campus climate survey done anonymously so that we can all stop boxing at shadows and stop relying on anecdotal evidence… Research shows that the numbers associated with the Clery Report are very likely just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, so I think we’re a little bit unique in our consistent emphasis on the importance of better data.

TDR: The last time we spoke you mentioned one of your goals was to get representation on COSSA and SPCSA. Have you been successful in that and has the administration been receptive to those efforts? 

Struble: No.

TDR: Has the College shown any interest at all in collaborating or meeting you halfway? 

Susie: Not exactly. We were expressly prohibited from getting involved in COSSA. As for the SPCSA, we have our own personal relationships with members on that committee, but there’s no formal relationship. So, I don’t feel that there’s as much collaboration as there could be or as there should be. A good illustration of this is their recent presidential committee summit. They announced its formation at an exclusive, invitation-only event. Nobody in our organization was invited, and when a handful of us mentioned that we’d love to be there, we were told that there was no room. We looked in The Dartmouth the next day and only to see dozens of empty seats in their photos. So, while I have some sympathy from a management perspective, there are a lot of alumni with diverse backgrounds, diverse opinions, and diverse experiences and that’s something that real leadership would be able to manage in a way that would leave everyone still feeling like they’re part of the community. It’s not easy. I’ve done it in my professional work and found it difficult, but not impossible.

TDR: Have they cited reasons for their refusal to involve you? Has there been any discussion of the implications or has it been sort of a passive, “no, no room” every time? 

Struble: It’s just been mostly passive, but they did show a willingness to meet with us back in late February. Some alumni from around the country flew out, met with President Hanlon and Dean Johnson, and had an hour-long conversation that felt really productive. Unfortunately, there’s really been no follow-up since then.

TDR: Have you had any success in contacting and coordinating efforts with student organizations? 

Struble: We’re in touch with students all the time. I’m not physically there in Hanover—I’m this forty-two year old lady living out in California—so it’s kind of hard to build relationships with students on campus. We do, however, still have relationship with students on the Presidential Committee for Sexual Assault and to my knowledge that’s really the only formal group involved in sexual violence on campus. We have conversations with other students through Sexual Assault Peer Advisors and Mentors Against Violence, so we have conversations. But there’s no formal relationship or involvement with student groups writ large.

TDR: What are your feelings about the quantity of organizations dealing with sexual assault on campus? Do you think such and abundance has adverse effects on their quality and efficiency of services? 

Struble: We haven’t really dived into these things in depth, but from a personal perspective, it is difficult not to be a bit overwhelmed and confused by all of the options out there. It’s a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare of wander through, particularly in the aftermath of trauma… It really does need to be fixed. I remember people talking about this back when I was on campus and that was a long time ago. This was one of the first recommendations to come out of the SPCSA a few years ago. Their suggestion was for a “violence-prevention center,” a one-stop shop for when you need help. [Such an option] makes it easier to find some to speak with confidentially and get the resources you need … Overall, we would agree that there really needs to be a revamp of Dartmouth’s resource in a human-centric and victim-centric way…

TDR Do you see the Greek system as more of a partner or as more of part of the problem? 

Susie: I think it’s a key issue, and I think it’s something we need some hard data to better understand… With such a large proportion of the population participating in it, it could fairly well be an important partner for all efforts to combat sexual assault in the long run. The Greek System certainly has its problems and there are things that need to be addressed, but they also do a lot of good. For this reason, we all need to have a really honest, clear discussion about fraternities. What role do they play in the College’s educational mission? And how can we involve them in solving the sexual assault problem?

TDR: Are you optimistic about any steps the administration has taken recently to help identify repeat offenders and root them out? Are there any additional policies that you’d recommend the College pursue to help identify and remove those people from the community? 

Struble: There are certainly some long-handing fruit… I think it’s something like 65% of all sexual assaults on campus are done by a pretty small percentage. But we have to remember that there’s a decent proportion that isn’t done by serial perpetrators, and we can’t lose sight of that fact. So yes, there is some low-hanging fruit. Overall, though, I don’t think the College has done much to make rooting out repeat offenders a top priority. I think one of the key things they could do is to improve the reporting system. This is something we tried to promote some time ago… there’s many ways to go about this… Both the victims and College needs to be alerted when there’s a serial perpetrator at large… It’s interesting because there’s a push for this at the national level as well, and I would not be too surprised to see some integrated systems roll out in the near future. Many of these would actually be outside of the College’s control and could by important for the well-being of the community at large… Just from a victim’s perspective it can be really affirming to know that what you went through was really a wrong thing…

TDR: That’s great to hear. Thank you very much for your time. 

Struble: My pleasure. [Dartmouth Change] is always happy to engage with students on campus and we sincerely appreciate The Review’s interest in the matter. Your coverage of sexual assault issues has been good and we appreciate the work you did on the Parker Gilbert Trial. Your constituency is essential. And this cannot be seen as an ideological issue. People can certainly disagree on some of the details on how go about trying to address this, but we’ve really got to fix this… We need to act now so we can put the silly stuff behind and just focus on the good things about Dartmouth while solving the problems that it does have.