Dartmouth has a problem!"
These were the words shouted by 15 student protesters and heard by hundreds of prospective students at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., on April 19, just before the start of the school's annual Dimensions show, an interactive performance that introduces prospective students to the different facets of campus life during the Dartmouth visiting weekend.
Organizers said the demonstration was intended to call attention to what they consider is the college's lack of response to recent incidents of homophobia, sexual assault and racism on Dartmouth's campus.
When asked what prompted the protest, protester Karolina Krelinova, a junior at Dartmouth, spoke specifically about frustration that arose during the campus-visit weekend.
"The protest resulted largely from the fact that our efforts to speak up were boycotted during the Dimensions weekend. We felt forcibly silenced and denied voice in sharing our experiences at Dartmouth with those deciding whether they should come to Dartmouth in September," Krelinova said.
Aaron Pellowski, a sophomore at Dartmouth who is currently working as a research assistant in Berlin, speculated about a larger trend of incidents before the weekend that could have prompted the protest.
"I don't know whether we are really special in this regard, but there have been a number of incidents like this," Pellowski said.
Speaking about incidents of racism and aggression, Pellowski referred to an incident in which racist graffiti was found on a student's whiteboard in January 2013 and to a Tumblr blog titled "Big Green Micro-Aggressions" - where students can document and discuss incidents of micro-aggression, which are brief and daily verbal and behavioral indignities which often take the form of insults against minorities.
"We, as conscious students of Dartmouth College, can no longer tolerate rampant sexual assault and acts of aggression against students of varying communities be they White, LGBTQ, Black, Asian, Native American, International, Latin/Latino, differently abled, or socioeconomically disadvantaged as part of our 'Dartmouth Experience,' " wrote the site's founders on their "About" page.
Carol Folt, Dartmouth's interim president, announced that all classes would be canceled on April 24 and replaced by alternative programming designed to foster debate in the aftermath of the protest and threats made against some of the students involved.
Many Dartmouth students have taken to social media and online forums to express outrage that the Dimensions show was interrupted by the protesters and views that the incident might deter prospective students from matriculating.
Pellowski recently wrote an op-ed in The Dartmouth urging the Dartmouth community to "get mad" not at the protesters, but at the incidents of hatred and racism which prompted the demonstration in the first place.
"I think the people who were involved in staging the protest should feel that Dartmouth's culture is antagonistic enough against race, homophobia and sexual assault that it isn't necessary for them to have to go to those lengths to get attention," said Pellowski. "What kind of school do I go to where death threats are made against protesters but no one makes close to these kinds of threats against rapists?"
Krelinova said the threats -- many of which were made anonymously through online forums -- have frightened some protesters.
"There are real people with real hate behind those anonymous threats, and because you need a Dartmouth e-mail address to access the online forum, we know those threatening us are our peers and classmates," Krelinova said via email. "Some of my friends are traumatized ... and don't know how to smile at strangers anymore -- they might have been those calling for our lynching and rape."
However, Krelinova said she is heartened by the university's decision to cancel classes.
"Cancellation of classes was our number one request from the very beginning of our communication with the administration after the protest. Yesterday felt like a victory, but we can't stop poking and motivating our peer students to continue to reflect and think about the issues now that the college has acknowledged that the problems are real and deserving of attention," Krelinova said.
Morgan Curtis, a junior at Dartmouth, liked the alternative programming that the university provided in place of cancelled classes.
"I was really impressed by how seriously the programming was taken by so many parts of campus. I personally was encouraged to attend by not only faculty and administrators, but also ... by my Greek house, my team, the outing club and the sustainability community I am a part of," Curtis said via email.
Even Pellowski in Berlin had a perspective on the alternative programming.
"Just like any day of lectures that you may go to, it's not necessarily guaranteed that you'll remember most of the details that you heard ... but, I feel that even if you forget any of the stories or anecdotes or statistics that were passed around on Wednesday, people will always remember the day that Dartmouth cancelled classes after the Dimensions protest," said Pellowski.