A Very Dangerous Campus

Following Tyler Kingkade's recent coverage of the disturbing events at Dartmouth College, it is evident that the school is mired in a moral and social crisis. American School Search, using statistics from the Department of Education, recently ranked Dartmouth the 34th most dangerous college in the United States. Giving Dartmouth a mark of "F" for campus security and citing "disappointing statistics for forcible sex offenses," ASS went on to describe Dartmouth as "presumably a very dangerous campus." In a separate study, Yahoo ranked Dartmouth as the 7th most dangerous campus in the country despite being the smallest of the Ivies and located in one of our safest states.

Faced with a 14% decline in applications, unflattering national press, an impending report on alleged Title IX violations by federal civil rights investigators, and a growing cynicism among faculty, staff, alumni and students, Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon recently proclaimed, "Enough is enough," and promptly formed the Presidential Steering Committee for Moving Dartmouth Forward. According to the Office of Public Relations, "The Steering Committee is tasked with making recommendations that will combat the root causes of extreme behavior in three critical areas: sexual assault, high-risk drinking and inclusivity on campus."

If this story sounds familiar, that's because it is. Exactly two years ago, in response to the faculty uproar over the now infamous Rolling Stone article, "Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth's Hazing Abuses," then President Jim Kim announced the membership and agenda of the Presidential Committee on Student Safety and Accountability. Kim said that the group would "reach out broadly" to different sectors of campus to gather input about hazing, sexual assault and binge drinking on campus. "I encourage you to seize those opportunities and contribute your voice to this vital discussion," he said in the press release. After a six-month delay, COSSA finally met and deliberated for over a year. Their findings were published in November of 2013 and forwarded to President Hanlon.

What Dartmouth desperately needs now is courageous and decisive leadership. However, in response to this most recent onslaught of negative publicity and, incredibly, without referencing any of the findings of the now published COSSA report, President Hanlon inexplicably followed Jim Kim's example and promptly formed yet another Presidential committee.

Students reported six rapes and one sexual assault between January and March of this year. While this new committee spends months duplicating the work of the previous one, dozens more students will become victims of sexual violence on campus. In the meantime, acutely aware of the College's rapidly deteriorating reputation, Dartmouth's Office of Public Relations has begun a vigorous campaign to convince those outside the community that Dartmouth is actually a safe and secure environment.

In a recent article in Cosmopolitan, Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson said, "I don't think it is the case that Dartmouth has a higher incidence of sexual assault than our peers in the Ivy League. I think what we have done over the last several years is to play a leadership role in this climate of reporting." Recently on NPR's Diane Rehm Show, President Hanlon said, "We can lead on prevention, and we have been doing that at Dartmouth for several years." In a recent press release announcing the formation of the Center for Community Action and Prevention opening in the fall, the College described itself as "a leader in developing cultural-changing strategies."

It is precisely this sort of hyperbole that discourages victims of sexual violence to report, jeopardizes the College's credibility, creates an atmosphere of deep cynicism on campus, and undermines the administration's own efforts to build support for their initiatives.

Far from being a leader on this issue, Dartmouth lags behind many of its peer institutions. Violence prevention centers are already present on many other campuses. While aspiring to be a welcoming and inclusive community, Dartmouth continues to support a fraternity system that dates back to the 18th century, discriminates by gender, and is arbitrarily exclusive. Dartmouth is behind many of its peers when it comes to the regulation of alcohol on campus - drinking games are permitted and, in some quarters, subtly encouraged, "lest the old traditions fail." The administration has yet to provide any hard data measuring the effectiveness of their new Bystander Initiative to prevent sexual assault or any of their other prevention programs. Under intense pressure, the College reluctantly agreed to conduct an annual campus climate survey to determine the exact nature and full extant of the College's social problems. Even so, the administration has repeatedly declined to make the unedited results of such a survey public. Although information on other crimes is routinely shared with the campus community by Safety and Security, real-time information on campus sexual assaults is not. After serving their disciplinary sanctions, perpetrators are routinely allowed to return to Hanover while their victims are still present on this tiny campus, almost guaranteeing a confrontation. The College provides no mandatory, comprehensive sexual assault awareness education for its students, a recommendation of many national violence prevention experts. The list goes on.

The truth is that far from being a leader in the field of prevention, evidence suggests that the problems of sexual assault may be more acute at Dartmouth than at many American universities. The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education, on its own initiative, recently opened an investigation of Dartmouth and its compliance with Title IX, the statute that guarantees women a campus environment free from discrimination, including the threat of sexual violence. The OCR targeted Dartmouth specifically because the College's problems appear to be " particularly acute or national in scope."

"Colleges and universities need to face the facts about sexual assault," Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a written statement published in the Chronicle of Education. "No more turning a blind eye or pretending it doesn't exist. We need to give victims the support they need--like a confidential place to go--and we need to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Since coeducation arrived In Hanover in 1972, the Dartmouth administration has formed committee after committee to address its social problems only to ignore the findings. Is this constant obfuscation on the part of the administration really "moving Dartmouth forward?" How many more Presidential Committees will have to meet before the College finally provides students with a campus environment free from the threat of sexual violence?