Campus Study Misses College’s Issues

Provost Carolyn Dever coordinated the distribution of our Dartmouth’s most recent “community study.”

Provost Carolyn Dever coordinated the distribution of our Dartmouth’s most recent “community study.”

Dartmouth’s campus has slowly devolved into a place where certain groups of people feel threatened and unsafe. We have almost totally disregarded the concepts of respect and free speech in favor of humiliation and exclusionary conduct. In response to these issues of campus climate, as part of the Moving Dartmouth Forward initiative, the College has decided to conduct a “community study” in conjunction with Rankin and Associates, a higher education consulting firm. Students, faculty, and staff were all greeted with an invitation to partake in this survey on October 6. In response, we at The Dartmouth Review thought that this would be an opportune time to investigate the content of the survey as well as put our campus climate into context.

Before even addressing the content of the survey itself, it is important to note that there are numerous issues that affect the core validity of the endeavor. Besides the questionable research methodology and ever-present problems of nonresponse bias, not even the most basic of measures were taken to secure the survey against untoward manipulation. Besides the emails sent by President Hanlon and Provost Dever, a publicly accessible link was published on Dartmouth Now. As Joe Asch ‘79 of Dartblog has already noted, anyone, regardless of affiliation (or lack thereof) with the College, can take the survey. It is also incredibly easy to take the survey multiple times, providing plenty of opportunities for discontented individuals, from disgruntled alumni to garden-variety Internet trolls, to seriously skew the results of the survey. It could not have been that difficult to require a NetID to complete the survey.

Continuing on to the survey’s content itself, it first provides students with a glossary of terms—indeed, an extremely comprehensive and verbose wall of definitions—that presupposes a radical social justice worldview. The list of terms includes the typical litany of “isms,” such as ableism, ageism, and classism, as well as other terms such as assigned birth-sex, biphobia, gender identity, and gender expression. The list goes on and on. The questions begin innocuously enough, asking whether students are comfortable on campus, whether they have considered leaving the College, and whether they are satisfied with the academic experience. Soon, the survey asks whether students have experienced any hostile, intimidating, or exclusionary behavior and then asks about sexual assault—all fair enough topics to ask questions about in a survey about campus climate. The next section is demographic, and despite some bizarrely political correct and excessively thorough questions, such as asking about masculine versus feminine gender expression and the specific nationality of one’s background, the study seems fine thus far.

Unfortunately, the survey takes a turn for the worse as soon as we reach the bulk of the meaningful questions. But after completing the majority of the survey, it was question 74 that really piqued our interest. This question and the series of related questions that followed dealt with “exclusionary behavior,” a term as nebulous as any other. Thus, we answered the questions as honestly as we could. Yes, we have observed exclusionary behavior. The victim was at the time a stranger to us. The source of the behavior was a student, and the stranger’s political views were the target of the inappropriate conduct. This person faced derogatory verbal remarks and experienced a hostile classroom environment in a lecture hall, and we did nothing. The College did nothing either. This incident was on November 9, 2014, and the victim was the then-sitting Governor of the State of Texas, the Honorable Rick Perry.

For those unfamiliar with the incident, Governor Perry was then exploring a run for president, and he decided to make a trip to Dartmouth. Students were given the opportunity to ask questions.  Unfortunately, the questions asked after Perry’s speech sounded almost like a perverted game of “would you rather” played by a group of sixth graders during lunch. “In your campaigns you have received hard-money campaign contributions totaling $102 million, half of which came from 204 donors. Would you have anal sex for 102 million?” and “Given that you believe that God made us to serve a specific purpose, why did he make our bunghole’s so sensitive and create such easy access to the prostate for great orgasms?” were among the many questions in a list distributed by the miscreants to the audience members. These few individuals showed up at the event not to listen and to understand, but rather to belittle and reject. Needless to say, this is an inappropriate way to treat any guest to our campus, let alone one as respected and influential as Governor Perry.

All the administration could muster in response were generic platitudes about “open-minded and thoughtful dialogue.” As a result, the College and its students were made to look foolish on a national stage. News of the incident was spread to media outlets such as the Huffington Post and Business Insider, and Republicans everywhere (respected and influential politicians included) were implicitly told that Dartmouth was no longer a safe place for them. Our campus sent the message that any viewpoints that do not perfectly coincide with the extraordinarily radical and politically correct atmosphere we have fostered on campus will be ridiculed and shut down. Going forward, it is very likely that the College will face trouble attracting high-profile speakers such as Governor Perry.

Unfortunately, it would be ignorant to think that the Rick Perry event was just an isolated incident and not a pattern of behavior. Take into consideration the recent disrespect shown toward Emily Yoffe, a respected journalist who writes mainly for Slate but whose work has also appeared in the New York Times and the Washington Post. She visited campus on October 8, 2015 to give a lecture titled “The College Rape Overcorrection.” While she went into the talk with an understanding that there would be some pushback against her because of the sensitive topic of her lecture, we are sure that she did not expect the level of blatant disrespect that was encountered in Rocky 1. Indeed, students showed up at the event not to engage in a respectful conversation with the speaker; they were more concerned with disrupting the event in an attempt to censor Yoffe rather than questioning her on the substance of her ideas.

This disruptive behavior was not limited to one moment but rather occurred throughout the presentation. Students laughed, interrupted, and acted belligerently whenever Yoffe brought up a point. Tension in the room reached a breaking point when a student got up from her seat and commandeered the projector from Yoffe, trying to prove a statistic brought up by a protester. While Yoffe continued on gracefully, most others in her situation would have been flustered. We certainly would have been, given the lack of basic human decency afforded by the protesters.

The problem with campus climate is not that there is rampant homophobia, classism, ableism, sexism, or racism. To be sure, there are isolated incidents of such bias, but there does not appear to be pattern of behavior. However, there definitively is a pattern of behavior from radicals who attempt to censor the opinions of those they disagree with. The experiences of Rick Perry and Emily Yoffe are only the most visible data points in this disturbing trend. Even President Obama has spoken out about the issues of campus climate, saying, “Sometimes there are folks on college campuses who are liberal and maybe even agree with me on a bunch of issues who sometimes aren’t listening to the other side. And that’s a problem.” President Obama then reiterated that he does not believe that college students should “be coddled and protected from different points of view.”

The “community study” is a failure if only for the fact that it does not address this problem—the main problem—with respect to campus climate. It presupposes, and wrongly so, that the problems of campus climate will be discrimination on the basis of various identities such as race, sexuality, religion, gender, citizenship status, disability status, or class. As such, the questions focus on whether Dartmouth is a positive and nondiscriminatory environment based on these factors. In contrast, the survey only tangentially and infrequently references bias on the basis of philosophical or political views, despite the fact that this type of bias is by far the most pervasive. Simply stated, the “community study” asks the wrong questions.

Senator Rand Paul often states that “You can be a minority because of the color of your skin or the shade of your ideology.” His words ring true on this campus now more than ever. Any conversation about campus climate that does not address the disrespect shown toward minority opinions is not one worth having.  The stifling of free speech and persistent efforts at censorship meaningfully degrade the educational experience of all students. Dialogue at Dartmouth is increasingly becoming an echo chamber, with those holding unpopular opinions often self-censoring in fear of backlash. Those courageous enough to speak out will be treated like Rick Perry and Emily Yoffe.

If the administration truly wishes to move Dartmouth forward and address issues of campus climate, it needs to change its vantage point. Opinions outside the conventional college orthodoxy should be encouraged and vigorously debated on the basis of their substance rather than censored or ridiculed. President Hanlon needs to insist that honored guests of the College be treated with some basic standard of human dignity. It also needs to be clear that students will not be protected from those they disagree with; controversial speakers should not be disinvited. In short, we hope that the administration throws out the result of this study, goes back to the drawing board on campus climate, and starts addressing actual issues.