For Dartmouth, a Day of Reflection and Understanding
April 25, 2013 by Bill Platt
Dartmouth suspended classes on April 24 for a day of reflection and understanding. The action followed an April 19 student protest that disrupted a Dimensions event for admitted students and a subsequent lack of civil discussion on campus, which included online threats directed at the protesters.
Dartmouth Hall is the backdrop for the "Day of Reflection and Understanding,” which brought out 1,500 people on April 24, 2013. (Photo by Eli Burakian '00)
The day began with a meeting of more than 150 members of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences. Later, speaking to a large crowd at the midday community gathering in front of Dartmouth Hall, Dean of the Faculty Michael Mastanduno described the faculty meeting as "a very passionate discussion of these issues.” Suspending classes was the right decision, he said.
"We can't separate what goes on inside the classroom from what goes on outside the classroom at Dartmouth,” he said. “And I think the very way to get faculty members as well as students to notice and understand that is to call a time-out. And I think this community needs a time out.”
The day’s public events began with Jessica Pettitt speaking on "The Day Everything Changed." Pettitt, a social justice and diversity consultant, described her talk as timely, "in light of the recent events—of the last 400 years."
Dartmouth Hall 105 was standing room only for Pettitt’s talk and five overflow rooms were opened to accommodate the approximately 400 people who attended.
Presidential Fellow Tyler Melancon ’12 pauses before speaking to a crowd of 1,500 during the April 24, 2013 "Day of Reflection and Understanding,” on the Dartmouth Hall lawn. (Photo by Eli Burakian '00)
Everything will change, Pettitt said, "when you decide to listen half as much as you talk."
By the time Interim President Carol L. Folt took to the podium on the steps of Dartmouth Hall just before noon, more than 1,500 people had gathered on the lawn.
"Today is about opening the door to conversations about civil debate, respect, and how we can care for each other, across difference," she said.
The move to interrupt classes—for reasons other than weather—is unusual but not unprecedented. The last occurrence was January 1986, when President David McLaughlin ’54, Tuck ’55, canceled classes for a day after the destruction by students of an anti-Apartheid "shantytown" on the Green.
President John Kemeny halted classes twice during his 1970 to 1981 tenure. The first time was in May 1970, shortly after he became president, when Kemeny suspended classes for a week for a campus-wide "teach-in" following the shootings at Kent State. Later, classes were suspended for a day of discussion on racism and sexism in March 1979 after several provocative incidents.
This week, in an April 23 letter to the Dartmouth community announcing the decision, Folt and other College leaders wrote, "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."
Faculty are deciding how best to make up the missed class time.
What They Said
“We are here today because enough is enough. These issues aren’t new and they aren’t specific to Dartmouth. But that does not mean that we as a community have to accept them. We are here today because all of us deeply care about making this College on the hill the best institution it can be.”
— Elise Smith ’13
“I took away that the leadership understand the gravity of the situation, embraces the need to make change, and, more importantly, is willing to start the conversation and start the steps to move forward in healing.”
— Walt Cunningham Jr., director of the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir
“This is the first institution I’ve been to that actually stopped classes and said, ‘OK, faculty, let’s meet; OK, students, let’s talk.’ ”
— Kristina Wolff, master of public health student at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice
“I think any time a conversation like this takes place, it can be helpful and useful. I was impressed with the comments at the faculty meeting. The important thing is follow up and follow through.”
— Randall Balmer, the Mandel Family Professor of Arts and Sciences and chair of the Department of Religion
“I think it is great that the administration took dramatic action. The three students who spoke were very powerful.”
— Marcus Welker, PhD student
"I know it can’t be solved by one singular motion, but I think we finally started a movement where we can hopefully just continue and hopefully this isn’t just a one-week, one-day thing. I hope this finally wakes people up.”
— Sandi Caalim ’13
'This Is Our Dartmouth'
The Rev. Nancy Vogele ’85, director of religious and spiritual life at the William Jewett Tucker Foundation, introduced the lineup of speakers on the steps of Dartmouth Hall. In addition to Folt were Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson, Economics Professor Bruce Sacerdote ’90, Duncan Hall ’13, Elise Smith ’13, and Presidential Fellow Tyler Melancon ’12. Board of Trustees Chair Steve Mandel ’78 sent an "affirmation of our commitment to fostering a cohesive and inclusive campus.”
Each in turn urged those gathered to speak up and to reach out to their friends and peers and to seize this moment for change.
"Today we have created a space, an opportunity to learn from each other and to interact across our differences, to embrace those differences," Johnson said. "This is our Dartmouth. This is your Dartmouth. And at Dartmouth there is no place for violence; there is no place for racism; there is no place for homophobia; there is no place for hate. This is our Dartmouth and we lead by example."
Said Hall, “Now is a time for us to come together as one college, not of separate groups, people, organizations, but of one body of extremely talented individuals to reflect, to think about how we want the people we love and care about to feel, not just at this College, but anywhere in the world.
The day was marked by intent conversations in nearly every venue, hallway, and sidewalk on campus. The Class of 1953 Commons dining hall served 2,445 people at a community lunch—more than twice the usual lunch crowd. The line ran well out the door as faculty, staff, and students ate and talked, then picked up tickets for "teach-ins" in 20 rooms across the campus. More than 800 people took part in the breakout sessions.
The sessions, facilitated jointly by faculty and staff, were open to members of the Dartmouth community. The only ground rules were to listen to and honor all opinions. The discussions were personal, intense, and sometimes emotional.
As the groups broke up, the discussions spilled into the hallways. In twos and threes, in knots of people sitting on the Green, on sidewalks, and in residence halls, the conversation continued.