A Legacy of Neglect

“The minute you think as an administrator that by fiat you can institute
culture change, the only thing you’ll get is mocking and ridicule and at that
point it will be well deserved.”
Jim Kim, Boston Globe, March 2, 2012

A disturbing legacy of the Jim Kim presidency is a sexual assault policy
carefully crafted to support the notion that the President of the College is
powerless to address the ongoing epidemic of violence against women at
Dartmouth. Although this position may protect the College from any
anticipated “fall-out” from their constituents, it places the former President
squarely with other “bystanders” who are reluctant to intervene when they
see their peers engaged in dangerous or abusive behavior.

Let me be clear: there are dozens of extremely dedicated and skilled
administrators, students, staff, faculty and community members who are
working heroically to prevent these crimes and to provide meaningful
support to victims.

However, the biggest obstacle these advocates face is a campus culture of
“non-interference” that plays out in Greek houses, dormitories, and
locker rooms every day and is perpetuated by some members of the
current administration. How else to explain, for example, a virtual blackout
on all meaningful discussion of revising the Greek system, even though
research tells us that in “group-think mentality,” individuals commit acts
they would not normally consider? You can’t say you’re committed to
changing the culture at Dartmouth on the one hand while taking the Greek
system off the table with the other.

Jim Kim based his approach to the problem of sexual assault on two
erroneous assumptions:
1. Sexual Assault is an unfortunate by-product of binge drinking.
Although alcohol is involved in virtually 100% of sexual assault cases at
Dartmouth, there is no causal connection between alcohol abuse and
sexual assault:
“A common misunderstanding is that if people commit sexual assaults
only when drunk, then (a) the drinking must have caused the assault and
(b) sobriety and alcohol counseling are adequate to prevent future assaults.
These erroneous conclusions confuse correlation and causation.”
Alcohol and Sexual Assault: The Connection by Scott Hampton, Psy.D.

By linking alcohol abuse (a disease) to sexual assault (a crime), one is able
simply ignore the disconcerting fact that alcohol is actually the nation’s
number one assault-facilitating drug. Although difficult to admit, this
suggests that “premeditation” is often a part of campus sexual crimes.
These crimes are not, as many would like to think, the result of “goodhearted
college kids just having a few too many beers”, nor are they, as
Jim Kim offered in a meeting with the Theater Faculty in 2011, “an
unfortunate reality of 21st century campus life.” Only mandatory ongoing
sexual assault awareness training for all students can begin to address
these dangerous misconceptions.

2. Any change in the campus culture can only come from the students.
This disturbing assertion suggests that victims, the overwhelming majority
of whom are undergraduate women, are somehow complicit in their own
assaults and therefore must change their behavior and their perpetrators’
to avoid being assaulted again. A victim of sexual assault is never
responsible under any circumstances for the crime that is committed
against them.

The former President’s disingenuous statement also runs counter to
recommendations by many experts in the field. A recent letter from the
Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights clearly states that sexual
assault can only be diminished if the entire campus community is involved:
“Compliance with Title IX, such as…education and training programs…can
help ensure that all students and employees recognize the nature of sexual
harassment and violence and to understand that the school will not
tolerate such conduct. Training for administrators, teachers, staff, and
students also can help ensure that they understand what types of conduct
constitute sexual harassment or violence, can identify warning signals that
may need attention, and know how to respond. “

Using FBI and Department of Education statistics, it is estimated that 124
Dartmouth women will be victims of sexual assaults or attempted assaults
in the coming year. It is absolutely imperative that the Trustees appoint a
new President who will have the courage to intervene in this crisis, no
matter the anticipated consequences. It is time to dispel the myths and
start telling the truth about sexual assault at Dartmouth College.

Peter Hackett ‘75
Avalon Professor of the Humanities
Professor of Theater


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