Moving Dartmouth into the Limelight

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Are we moving Dartmouth forward, or are we just moving Dartmouth into the limelight?

On January 29, President Phil Hanlon approached the Moore Auditorium podium to deliver an address unveiling the reforms put forth by the “Moving Dartmouth Forward” (MDF) Steering Committee. While Hanlon’s explicitly stated motives were to eliminate “exclusivity” and “extreme behavior” on campus, many observers noted that Parkhurst’s latest offering seemed to have an additional, implicit motive of propping up the College’s sinking in the estimation of the national media, given the recent scandals’ toll on our reputation.

Dartmouth’s recent string of troubles began in 2012, when Andrew Lohse accused his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, of abusive hazing rituals in The Daily Dartmouth and Rolling Stone (which he later parlayed into a 2014 memoir). The idea of Dartmouth as a school dominated by the iron fist of an oppressive Greek system was propagated by national coverage of the College’s scandals: the RealTalk protesters, who were compelled by Dartmouth’s racism and sexism to invade the 2013 Dimensions Show and chant “Dartmouth has a problem!” in front of prospective ’17s; the Bored@Baker “rape guide” scandal, where a male freshman’s post on how to manipulate and seduce a female freshman (neither of whom were allowed to enter fraternities at that point) was somehow indicative of the effect of fraternities; the Freedom Budget authors’ occupation of President Hanlon’s office in April 2014, where a ragtag band of Communards barricaded themselves until the president of the “prestigiously white institution” read their proposals and “[met] our demands.” Reporting on these and other events never failed to mention that Dartmouth was under investigation for sexual assault; that Dartmouth had a long-standing reputation for drinking; that the Greek system was considered Hanover’s bogeyman (did you know that in the 1920s, Theta Delt killed a man?).

The media’s portrayal of the MDF plan has been in keeping with its previous portrayals of the College. The headlines of news pieces reporting on MDF invariably focused on the hard alcohol ban, generally in conjunction with preventing sexual assault (without fail, the New York Times, Washington Post, and Bloomberg remembered to mention that Dartmouth was the inspiration for National Lampoon’s 1978 comedy, Animal House, in case their readers had not picked up on this piece of breaking news from previous reporting on Dartmouth’s scandals). The articles generally tended to rehash the same facts: that President Hanlon moved to ban hard alcohol; that Dartmouth was one of ninety-five schools investigated by a federal probe on sexual violence; that the new residential colleges would be a cultural shift.

Editorial commentary was more mixed on the MDF proposals. Some outlets gave President Hanlon plaudits on attempting to change the College’s culture (such as the Boston Globe and the Washington Post), taking at face value the presumption that a hard alcohol ban would be effectual in blunting the scourge of sexual assault and exclusive behaviors. Others (like the Atlantic) were more skeptical of the ban and its unintended consequences, drawing the obvious parallel to Prohibition; quoth the Wall Street Journal editorial board, “perhaps a young entrepreneur is being handed the opportunity to become the Jay Gatsby of Hanover.” Joe Asch of Dartblog worried that the new hard alcohol ban would allow for more abuses of power by Safety & Security, let alone the Hanover Police, as the previous “probable cause” standard would be moved to one of “reasonable suspicion” for searching dorm rooms. The American Spectator made similar arguments, but its editorial showed a lack of research when it mentioned that alternatives to illicit hard alcohol would be found in drinking beer from kegs and taps — not only are those implements currently barred from our fraternities, the queues that form from their use would lead to slower drinking than the massive drinking from cans that occurs today. National Review’s Katherine Timpf cast doubts on the efficacy of the four-year sexual assault education policy, as “apparently students might not know how to not rape each other without it.” (Her editorial, unlike previous editorial reports from NR, thankfully calls us “Dartmouth College” and not “Dartmouth University.”) The conservative Power Line Blog, whose members include other girdled earth-wanderers, praised Hanlon for his attempts to change the College’s culture through academic rigor and the residential college plan.

It can be seen that President Hanlon’s latest opus, though far from being a public relations coup for the College, received some positive reviews from the national media. The true effects of the plan will only be found out down the line, in the field of public relations and otherwise; by its fruits will we know the true nature of MDF.