• April 23, 2014

Dartmouth College Calls a Timeout After Student Protest Draws Hostile Reactions

All undergraduate and graduate classes in the arts and sciences at Dartmouth College have been canceled for Wednesday after a student demonstration sparked a backlash that included violent online threats against the protesters.

In place of regularly scheduled courses, the New Hampshire institution will hold educational programming that it hopes will foster healthy debate and promote respect for diverse opinion. Featured speakers include the college's interim president, a dean, faculty members, and students.

The controversy began last Friday, during an event for prospective students called Dimensions at Dartmouth, when around 15 students with signs burst in and began to chant, "Dartmouth has a problem!" Members of the group decried what they called incidents of homophobia, racism, and sexual assault on the Ivy League campus as several hundred prospective students—admitted to Dartmouth but yet not committed to attending—looked on.

Current students performing in the annual event's welcome skit pleaded unsuccessfully with the protesters to leave, according to a campus newspaper, The Dartmouth, but it was a counter chant started by a prospective student—"We love Dartmouth!"—that eventually led to the demonstrators' exit after several awkward minutes.

After the protests, Dartmouth students flocked to Facebook and Bored at Baker—an online forum named for the campus library but not officially affiliated with the college—to share their opinions, many of which took on violent tones. The comments offered streams of profanity-laced insults about the protesters' ostensible sexual orientations and appearance, and included calls for physical violence against them involving razor blades and other weapons.

"Why do we even admit minorities if they're just going to whine?" one commenter asked. "Wish I had a shotgun. Would have blown those [expletive] hippies away," wrote another.

'Never Justified'

Such ugly comments, in turn, prompted students involved in the demonstration to create a blog, called Real Talk Dartmouth, where they have been collecting and posting screenshots of the most offensive posts.

"We were well aware that attempts to speak truth about personal discomfort on campus are socially punished at Dartmouth," said Karolina Krelinova, a junior who was one of the demonstrators, wrote in an e-mail to The Chronicle. "But we definitely did not expect anonymous death threats and other very hurtful comments and threats both online and in person from people we keep meeting on the sidewalks and in cafeterias."

In a campuswide e-mail on Friday, Charlotte H. Johnson, dean of the college, questioned the protesters' "choice of venue" but also reiterated the college's commitment to diversity and tolerance. "Threats and intimidation—even if made anonymously or online—violate our standards and expectations for the Dartmouth community," she wrote. "This kind of behavior is never justified."

Campus news outlets reported that a message shared on Facebook profiles against harassment at Dartmouth had gone viral among students upset by the hostile posts, and Ms. Krelinova said the protesters had also received messages of support from student groups at Stanford and Yale Universities.

On Tuesday evening students received an e-mail notifying them of the alternative programming on Wednesday. "We feel it is necessary for the community as a whole to have the opportunity to learn about all that has transpired and to discuss further action that will help us live up to our mission," states the e-mail from the office of the interim president, Carol L. Folt. The message also outlines the day's schedule, which includes a community lunch and teach-ins led by Dartmouth faculty and staff members.

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