To the dismay of several alumni, Dartmouth College has determined that Black Lives Matter protesters who occupied the school library last year did not commit any conduct violations.
During the November 12 protest, approximately 150 students identifying with the BLM movement descended upon Baker-Berry Library, holding signs and shouting obscenities. As they spread throughout the building, the protesters even accosted students who attempted to continue studying, demanding that they leave their private study rooms and assemble to witness the protest.
Throughout the ordeal, the protesters continued their chanting, hurling epithets such as “F*** you, you filthy white f***s!,” “F*** you and your comfort!,” and “F*** you, you racist s***!”
In a letter to alumni that 1979 Dartmouth graduate Joseph Asch posted on Dartblog Monday, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Meg Ramsden declares that after investigating 13 separate complaints regarding the takeover, Dartmouth has concluded that none of the student protesters committed any “specific violations of the Standards of Conduct,” though the college does concede that their behavior violated the (unenforceable) Moving Dartmouth Forward Citizenship Pledge.
“In essence, no rules for which there are recorded and communicated sanctions were broken,” she asserts, pointing out that “none of the complaints filed claimed physical contact,” and that Dartmouth’s Citizenship Pledge is “merely aspirational” and imposes no sanctions on those who fail to uphold it.
“Abusive language aimed at any of our community members—by any group, at any time, in any place—is not acceptable. In an academic institution, however, freedom of speech is mission critical,” Ramsden explains. “In these cases when it is a struggle to find the balance between that freedom and respectful behavior, it’s imperative that the Dartmouth community affirms its core principles of respect for every member of the community and everyone’s right to freedom of expression, and then reflect[s] on the mistakes made against the backdrop of a commitment to civil discourse.”
Asch and other alumni, though, take issue with the school’s argument, arguing that the protesters’ actions clearly violated at least one policy, and possibly even a state law.
Standard VIII of the conduct code specifically addresses disruption of the college’s academic mission by students or student groups, defining such violations to include “conduct (including by way of example, obstruction, noise, or the display of banners or objects) that prevents or disrupts the effective carrying out of a College function or approved activity, such as classes, lectures, meetings, interviews, ceremonies, and public events.”
Moreover, the Dartblog post also suggests that the BLM protest might have constituted criminal disorderly conduct under New Hampshire law, which prohibits “disrupting any lawful assembly or meeting of persons without lawful authority.”
Other alumni also shared their own reactions to the questionable logic behind Dartmouth’s refusal to punish the protesters for conduct code violations.
“The pretzel logic of the no punishment explanation is offensive to anyone who managed to obtain a degree from this institution,” opined an alum in a comment Asch posted to Dartblog. “On the other hand it squares nicely with [Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon]’s use of the words ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusive’ and their various iterations 22 times in his one page letter to the community.”
“And so I guess it’s OK if the incident in question occurs again … and again … and again,” added another alum. “As I see it, the College’s leaders are straining really, really hard to find a way not to do what is right, proper and courageous in this case … and it is only a matter of time before this ‘do nothing’ approach bites them in the butt.”
Foreshadowing that institutional response, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Inge-Lise Ameer expressed unmitigated support for the protesters at a forum held several days after the library takeover, even endeavoring to blame conservatives for the hostile demonstration.
The protest was a wonderful, beautiful thing,” she declared, then appeared to contradict herself by offering the justification that “there’s a whole conservative world out there that’s not very nice.”
The chants of “F*** your white privilege,” she assured listeners, “were not personal or racist attacks on individual white persons in the library,” despite the testimony of multiple individuals that they were isolated, harassed, and even touched by the protesters.
Ameer eventually apologized for insinuating that conservatives are not nice people, but did not retract any of her other comments.