Over a dozen protestors interrupted a presentation for accepted students at Dartmouth College last Friday to protest recent incidents of sexual assault, homophobia and racism on campus. “Dartmouth has a problem!” they shouted as they walked through the dining commons, freaking out hundreds of prospective students — and, of course, the Ivy League college's administration.
“Our purpose is not to scare prospective students away,” reads the description on a YouTube video of the event uploaded by Dartmouth RealTalk. “Rather to give a holistic and realistic prospective to counterbalance the flawed advertising that takes place during Dimensions.”
But some prospective students said the protest seemed unproductive.
Lainie Caswell, a prospective student from Palo Alto, Calif., told The Dartmouth that the incident was a “low point of the weekend.”
“I feel like I gained a better perspective on those issues when people weren’t yelling at me,” Caswell said. “I think it was good that those issues were brought to light because I don’t think I would have talked or asked about those problems. I gained more of a holistic perspective. [The protest] definitely wasn’t the best way to approach that.”
Other critics echoed this commenter's sentiments: "This is by no means the most effective way to address the issue. Do you realize that by telling highly impressionable prospective students that Dartmouth condones sexist and racist behavior that the only kids who are going to enroll are the ones not bothered by the status quo? I would guess that most 18 year olds don’t decide to attend an institution filled with “problems” that they must then work to combat, although it would be wonderful if this was the case."
Many others said it was "rude."
Of course it was rude to interrupt the presentation, but when is disobedient protest ever polite? If the protestors had stuck with more traditional college protest-y tactics — handing out flyers, putting up posters, etc. — we probably wouldn't be writing about sexual assault at Dartmouth right now. And there's no better way to get a prestigious private college's attention than to threaten its reputation.
Whenever I cover sexual assault issues on various campuses, I get emails asking why I'm picking on XYZ school, given that its level of sexual assault is "normal." The director of the Princeton Women's Center said that was probably the reason why Princeton didn't release a disturbing report on sexual assault; why should Princeton get bad press when colleges around the country experience the same rates of rape and sexual assault but don't publicly announce them?
Because if administrations don't individually work on the way they handle sexual assault (and racism and homophobia), nothing will change. More and more college students across the country are filing Title IX and Clery Act complaints, but they still represent the tiny minority of students who not only report their rape but have the wherewithal to take significant legal action.
Those looking for a more directly effective way to help should check out the "Know Your IX" campaign, recently launched by students and young alumni who have successfully campaigned against their colleges' inadequate responses to campus sexual violence. (We've covered many of them at UNC and Amherst!) "Know your IX" aims to educate every college student in the U.S. about his or her rights under Title IX by the start of the Fall 2013 academic term.