Dear Protesters, It’s Time to Stop the Hijacking

As has been publicized throughout the country, Dartmouth College cancelled classes this Wednesday in order to calm the campus following a controversial protest over the weekend. This was largely done in order to “address not only the initial protest, but a precipitous decline in civility on campus over the last few months,” according to an email sent out on the 26th of April by Steve Mandel, Chair of the Board of Trustees. That much is accurate.

Civility has indeed declined on campus. It was almost exactly a year ago that a college-approved display by a pro-life group was savaged. Counter-protesters planted signs, disrupted the demonstration, and finally drove a car off the road in order to squash the display. Luckily, no one was run over.

Then came the Dimensions protest. It was not college-approved and violated multiple Standards of Conduct as we and so many other commentators have observed. While the administration’s first response did not condemn the protesters’ behavior, that has recently changed. In her speech at the Community Gathering on Wednesday, Interim President Folt made reference to the private processes of the College’s justice system. Even more recently, Mandel’s April 26th email stated that “the administration is following established policies and procedures with regard to any possible disciplinary action in both cases [the protest and the harassment thereafter]. As in every case regarding a disciplinary investigation, this process is confidential and respects the privacy of our students.”

Bravo. As we pointed out in our editorials, the administration should seek justice. That includes the rude and violent protest as well as the threats of violence to the protesters. Yet, we fear this is far too little, far too late. The protesters have neither ceased their attempted hijacking of the College nor opened a legitimate and calm dialogue with the remainder of the student body. They have continually flouted the Dartmouth Community Standards of Conduct as well as polite behavior by repeatedly breaking into and interrupting meetings that were supposedly off-the-record or private with intimidation tactics, unsolicited videotaping, or both.

These guerrilla tactics have reached the point where the following email about the harassment was sent by the Admissions office to student tour guides: 

The above letter was sent to all tour guides describing the current situation.

For reference: “conduct (including by way of example, obstruction, noise, or the display of banners or objects) that prevents or disrupts the effective carrying out of a College function or approved activity, such as classes, lectures, meetings, interviews, ceremonies, and public events” is expressly prohibited by the Dartmouth Community Standards of Conduct. It appears that the protesters have embraced a campaign that continually violates these standards.

These are not the tactics of a group that seeks reconciliation, harmony and civil discourse. This is not dialogue. This is not calm and rational. This is not even the type of social justice work that social justice consultant Jennifer Pettitt suggested during her relatively moderate lecture on Wednesday. The protesters, a very vocal minority within a vocal minority that desires reform at the College, have displayed little to no desire to enter into a dialogue that is truly open and free.

If they cannot control themselves and abide by the standards of this community, then perhaps stronger actions are required. Why not ban these protesters from campus until they are willing to actually discuss these issues in a calm and rational manner without intentionally disrupting the functioning of the College? Appeasement does not work with fanatics. Until they are willing to behave reasonably and responsibly, why should we attempt to negotiate with them? Why should we attempt to bribe these protesters with larger and larger stages for their platforms?

Truly, the saddest thing of this whole encounter is that the protesters have nearly drowned their own causes in a sea of hypocrisy. While supposedly fighting for tolerance, they have been intolerant of other people’s opinions and their right to be listened to. As the protesters have argued for greater community harmony, they have also disrupted the functions of the community and fought against attempts for harmony. Their causes are just. The College should discuss homophobia, sexual assault, and many of the other issues they raised. The Dartmouth Review wonders if the battle over capitalism hasn’t already been fought and decidedly won. But their approach has hurt most of these same causes. The chaos of each subsequent demonstration alienates the student body from the protesters and thus, the battle for reform. After all, many people on this campus wish to modify the Greek system, but not destroy it. The disorderly protests have shoved this sizeable block off of the platform of reform. As a letter to the editor of The Daily Dartmouth stated: “This is getting ridiculous.”

Dartmouth is one of the best colleges in the country, but it can be made better. We would be the first to admit that. We are ready to sit down and discuss serious reforms to the Greek system, alternative social spaces, and increasing tolerance at the College. We decried the violence at the Vita Clamantis pro-life display, at the Dimensions protest, and in online forums. The Dartmouth Review looks forward to participating in those frank, friendly, and free discussions because we love this College and want to leave it a better place for the future generations of students.

 

–J.P. Harrington