Dartmouth Reviewed: Community protests anti-Native American imagery
Nichola W. Tucker
Friday, December 1
Loud enough to penetrate the famous granite of New Hampshire, senior Michelle Davis' strong words pulsated through the PA-system and reverberated across the Dartmouth College campus:
Usually bare, the lawn in front of the venerable Dartmouth Hall was packed, with people spilling over onto the side of the road--a surprising sight considering it was the last day of fall term classes, when students tend to lock themselves in the library in preparation for finals. But more than 600 students, faculty, and staff came together on the afternoon of Nov. 29 for a rally that banners, fliers, and emails advertised as "Solidarity Against Hatred."
The previous day's edition of The Dartmouth Review, with a cover depicting a scalp-wielding Native American and the headline "The Natives Are Getting Restless!," mobilized members of the Dartmouth community to speak out at the end of a term plagued by allegations of racism, sexism, and intolerance. Six students and eight members of the faculty and administration, including Student Assembly President Tim Andreadis and college President James Wright, gave speeches condemning hateful expressions such as the Review's recent cover.
Since September, Dartmouth students have reported and sought help from the administration about a number of incidents perceived as offensive to Native American students. During freshman orientation, the Review sold T-shirts emblazoned with the college's outdated Indian mascot, which College trustees eliminated in the early 1970s, but which the Review has publicly championed ever since. A group of fraternity pledges interrupted a Native American ceremony commemorating genocide by clapping, dancing, and then running through the center of a drum circle. Gamma Delta Chi members sold homecoming T-shirts depicting a Holy Cross crusader performing oral sex on a Native American. A crew team formal chose "Cowboys, Indians, and Barnyard Animals" as its unofficial theme.
Dartmouth's history as a college founded to educate the youth of northeastern Native American tribes makes these recent representations and actions towards Native Americans particularly contentious. Students and alumni continue to be divided on how to reconcile the message of Dartmouth's founding with the unofficial Native American mascot still in use by some today. The mascot's detractors see the symbol as a stereotypical misappropriation of Native American culture that engenders inaccurate understanding of and insensitive behavior. Supporters of the old mascot argue that tradition should not be overshadowed by an attempt to placate the modern-day feelings of a small minority.
In the Nov. 20 issue of The Dartmouth, the campus daily newspaper, a coalition of students from different campus groups called the Native American Council (NAC) contributed to this history with a two-page spread addressed to the Dartmouth community about the recent events. This advertisement called on "the perpetrators...to meet in open dialogue" and indicted the "president, the trustees, the provost, the dean of faculty, and the dean of the college [for failing] to respond swiftly and visibly by denouncing these acts." President James Wright issued an open letter the same day in which he addressed the concerns of the NAC and extended his support, saying, "When any one individual or group is singled out to be demeaned or diminished, the entire community is the victim, and we all should share in the response. I apologize on behalf of the college."
However, his letter also informed the community of other racist and sexist comments that had been brought to the administration's attention, which sources say refer to reported incidents of verbal and physical abuse against African American students.
On Nov. 27, three Vermont high school students drove through campus and threatened an African American student using racial slurs and taunts, and Wright issued another letter to Dartmouth undergraduates the afternoon of Nov. 28, notifying students of the investigation.
So for many students upset and rattled by the term's events, the Nov. 28 issue of the Review was the straw that broke the camel's back. Students from NAC and other campus organizations started communicating via email, voicing anger and frustration with the publication's choice.
"So many people were angry and wanted to do rash things, like publicly burn issues of The Review or storm the editor-in-chief's dorm room," said junior Elizabeth Sherman, an organizer of the rally. "Others realized that wasn't going to be productive." Fellow organizer and senior Danielle Strollo added, "We needed to do something big and dramatic, and this was our time. People were like, 'let's stop with the [emailing] and get together for a mass meeting.'"
More than 150 students showed up, and preparations for the rally in front of Dartmouth Hall began. A variety of different student organizations sponsored the event, including but not limited to the Afro-American Society, Native Americans at Dartmouth (NAD), Dartmouth Progressives, and the Dartmouth Free Press. [The writer is editor-at-large of the Free Press, a Campus Progress-supported publication.] Students also collaborated extensively with the faculty and administration.
While cheers and applause sounded throughout the hour, the rally was marked by a kind of quiet solemnity. Only a handful of people carried signs, but those that appeared read "Silence = Complicity," "Stop the Hatred," and "Civil Discourse." At the rally's end, the majority of attendees lingered, talking with each other and signing banners with permanent marker.
The speeches varied in tone, style, volume, and content. After shouting "enough is enough," Davis' voice crescendoed with each use of the word "unacceptable" to describe the recent events. Native American Programs Director and Dartmouth class of '73 alumnus Michael Hanitchak opened his speech by "thank[ing] the Abenaki nation for allowing us to be guests here in their homeland." Student Body President and senior Tim Andreadis asked his peers, "When will racial hostility be replaced by understanding and activism?" Wright repeated the phrase "my Dartmouth, our shared Dartmouth" in describing his vision of "a learning community that is built upon relationships." And Sexual Abuse Program Director Leah Prescott blew a whistle four times, deafening the crowd before stealing the show with her performance poem she wrote that concluded with a emotional and seemingly endless refrain, "We won't let you go."
While many of the speakers referenced and indicted the Review, most conspicuously avoided making the publication the focus of the rally. "This rally is not about the Review," Davis said. "It isn't about this term. This rally is about pervasive, overwhelming, and devastating institutionalized racism, sexism, and marginalization." Indeed, all of the speeches focused more broadly on the creation of a respectful and inclusive Dartmouth, free from expression that targets individual members or groups in its community.
Senior and editor-in-chief of the Review, Daniel Linsalata said he did not attend the event but only because he felt he would be "publicly pilloried." While he initially made an effort to involve himself in the previous night's meeting, he said, "I figured it wasn't worth my time to engage in a place where I would be the single object of attention."
When asked if he had any regrets about the issue, Linsalata stood by the content, but said "I would try to contextualize [the cover] so that fewer people would be taking it literally....The cover was an ironic tongue-in-cheek comment on the reaction from the NADs. The important thing that people missed is that this wasn't an attack on Native Americans as a whole, just the leadership. I really don't think that NADs is the voice of every Native at Dartmouth. I've had a lot of Natives [e-mail] me, and say, 'I hear what you're saying and the NADs are not a group I believe in.'"
He added, "Obviously we really were not intending to maliciously go out of our way to say, 'How many people can we piss off?'" And he encouraged students "to thoroughly read and consider what I've said in my editorial...then we can have a more constructive discussion. If people are blinded by offense, then we're not going to go anywhere."
Although the rally came together in less than 15 hours, the large attendance did not seem to surprise its organizers and speakers. Junior Lena Martinez-Watts said, "What happened...is a testament to something that was not a forced rally, but something organic that people were truly passionate about. This wasn't about being PC. PC doesn't move people like that." Prescott, the sexual abuse program director, said, "I'm impressed by the way students got together so quickly.... They saw an urgency and decided that this was a time to act. The numbers were fabulous, especially for a time like this, with the last day of classes and finals about to start."
"The numbers may have been higher than some rallies we've seen in the past," Wright said. "The tone was one of reaching out and including and supporting, rather than simply speaking in anger. There was certain anger there, but the overall tone was 'This is our community, we care about it, and we're going to look out for each other.'" He added, "I regret very much the circumstances under which it took place, but I think that in many ways, this rally represents the best of Dartmouth."
In a post-rally interview, Dean of the Tucker Foundation and Associate Provost Stuart Lord, who also spoke at the event, said, "We stood today to remind people and to say to everyone that we are not going to allow incidents of hate define who we are and that the united voice of those who love Dartmouth is stronger than any one person's words." He added, "We even value the person who perpetrates hate speech. No one is excluded from being valued. There is dysfunction in our family, but we're still a family."
Nichola W. Tucker is a junior at Dartmouth College. She is a senior editor of Dartmouth Free Press, a Campus Progress-sponsored publication.