“What are you, a gay wrestler?”

~ by Eli Lichtenstein

 

Elliot Morales murdered Mark Carson last Friday night in New York City’s West Village. Encountering Carson and his partner on Sixth Avenue, Morales spit a string of antigay slurs before shooting Carson, a gay man of color, in the head.

 

The violence which saturates our society and ourselves is a targeted violence; there is nothing random about it; a hate crime consists of the assault on what the perpetrator takes to be a non-human object. Mark Carson was murdered because he was gay and as such, an object. A dear friend of mine was raped because she is a woman and as such, an object. Any deviation from the societal definition of the human must be abruptly eradicated or punished, or at least sadistically enjoyed.

 

A German philosopher once wrote that fascism is signified by “the miracle of integration, the permanent benevolence of those in command, who admit the unresisting subject while he chokes down his unruliness.” Fascist logic is consistent: the utter subordination of the individual—the other—to the group. Yet fascism appears in multiple guises. We can locate it in Nazism, which demands the genocidal removal of every instance of difference. But fascism also appears in the expectation, nearly unavoidable, that every individual shall willingly carve her psychology and her body into the particular form required for her integration into the community. The inability to accept this coercion mandates banishment from the group, whether by violent social ostracization or by death.

 

Fascism, here, has metaphorical value. It describes a social relationship predicated on coercion, in which to belong, the subject must swallow her misgivings and her anger and her searing pain, must express complete gratitude and happiness merely to have been allowed in.

 

An alumnus writes, “No women making a fuss in my day. Be happy we let you in.”

 

The same logic appears in a video posted last week by a group calling itself #OurDartmouth. At a first viewing, the video appears, at best, entirely vapid. While smooth piano-lounge softly plays, students of rainbowed racial and gender identities pronounce one-word descriptions of Dartmouth: opportunity, hope, amazing, unique. The video presents a collage of triumphant multiculturalism. Perhaps the group’s mission is well intentioned: according to the video, #OurDartmouth aims to “reunite our community” and to “start a conversation,” apparently about Dartmouth’s epidemic of violence. A speaker in the video claims that the school is complex, and that “the strength of our community is rooted in its complexity.” Yet the problem with a campaign which reduces complexity to the semantic difference between “exploration” and “transformative” is that it effectively elides all substantive difference, all true complexity which cannot be expressed by a few faces articulating their love for Dartmouth in remarkably similar terms.

 

Thus, what begins as a call to share stories ends as a strict provisioning of the narrow range of the stories to be shared. One student talks about playing soccer on the Green, another speaks excitedly of her upcoming trip to Malaysia where she’ll be “studying a hunter-gatherer population.” Another student categorically states that “everyone here just wants you to feel at home and is very sensitive to making you feel like Dartmouth is the place for you.” In this definition of conversation as the collective affirmation of the college, there is no space to say, simply, that Dartmouth has a problem. Consequently, Dartmouth doesn’t have a problem. In this denial of conflict, our smiling and benevolent peers implicitly insist that Dartmouth’s only problem lies in those who don’t agree. But the video doesn’t stop at the total erasure of difference. Instead it demands subordination to the ideal, to the ghostly image of the imagined community. “We hope,” the main speaker asserts, to “reunite our community by reflecting on the unique and much loved traditions and experiences here in Hanover.” The primary referent of social reconciliation thus becomes the exhausted narrative of Dartmouth tradition. Ultimately it is these constructed experiences that will serve to pacify real, human antagonism. Thus, social inclusion is defined in terms of an exclusionary institutional identity. The form of the college subsumes its content, and in so doing, violently eradicates it.

 

The subject is forced to cut her soul, already disfigured by the violence of our society, into the increasingly grotesque shapes demanded by this form. Within a self-declared community, one would hope that the simple assertion, “I have been attacked; I am unsafe here; something needs to fundamentally change” would not be met with ridicule or aggression but instead with the profound concern that it merits. Yet such was not its reception after the April 19th protest. And in this sense—in the complete suppression of the individual at Dartmouth—fascism lives on. It lives on in a college hostile to the concerns of its students; in the brutality of our rape culture; in a technocratic administrative apparatus that absorbs substantive problems in endless formal procedures. It lives on in an economy that demands self-prostitution for the smallest of paychecks; and in our own movements, among ourselves, among our supposed allies, as those voices speaking of other tragedies and other struggles are summarily silenced.

 

Every day a deafening imperative demands our absolute conformity to structures of power. Resistance to this imperative has become a matter of life and death.

 

The human being is now either a technical apparatus or is engaged in a bitter struggle for all that is still human within it.

 

 

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We Interrupted a Variety Show and are Receiving Death Threats

~ anna winham

We Interrupted a Variety Show and are Receiving Death Threats

or

It’s OK to Oppress Queers and Women and Non-White People but it’s not OK to Object to that Publicly

or

If You Don’t Love Dartmouth, Why Haven’t You Transferred

CONTENTS

I. “This isn’t dialogue!”

II. “You’re ruining my life; I’ve been practicing for weeks!”

III. “You can’t stand against violence.’”

IV. “Try going to any other college and you’ll find it’s just as bad.”

This article will be published in installments for the sake of getting information into the common domain as soon as possible. Facts presented in the article have been corroborated by the students who have taken part in various aspects of the #Realtalk movement.

I. “This isn’t dialogue!”                                                                         Published: 4/24/13

1 in 4 women in college will be sexually assaulted.

Between 2008 & 2010, Dartmouth averaged 15 reports of sexual assault among 6,000 students.

95% of sexual assaults on college campuses are not reported.

NOVEMBER 2011: homophobic, sexist graffiti on Gender-Neutral Floor.

MAY 5, 2012: homophobic verbal attack on LGBT students.

MAY 11, 2012: racist verbal attack on student.

NOVEMBER 2012: racial slur on Obama poster, first-year dorm.

JANUARY 2013: racist verbal attack on students, ’53 Commons.

JANUARY 2013: racist graffiti on student’s whiteboard, first-year dorm.

JANUARY 2013: Nikkita McPherson gives Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Keynote Address Introductory Speech.

JANUARY 24, 2013: Jennifer McGrew’s article about privilege and oppression at Dartmouth is published in The Dartmouth. Comments describe her “self-victimization” and “whining.”

MARCH 29, 2013: Dickey Centre blitz accuses women and minority students of keeping silent, of allowing self-doubt to hold them back, of not jumping in, of weakening public debate through their absence, and of not living up to their responsibility to contribute. This blitz ignores structures of oppression that have led to the exclusion of women and minorities from certain spaces of discourse as well as excludes all of the dialogue in which these students do participate on a daily basis.

MARCH 2013: Group of concerned students forms to discuss outrage caused by Dickey Centre blitz and ongoing patterns of bias and oppression. Group begins to plan dialogue events for spring term, including events for Dimensions Weekend. Group is made up of diverse individuals from many communities; actions are undertaken by individuals and may or may not be supported by other individuals within the group.

APRIL 2013: #Realtalk idea emerges; hopes to provide potential future students with dialogue and information on their individual experiences at Dartmouth, especially as these experiences relate to what it is like for students of colour, LGBTQ students, students without class privilege, and women to attend Dartmouth.

APRIL 17, 2013, Wednesday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken word and discussion event ripped down from public areas while other posters remain.

APRIL 18, 2013, Thursday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-classist chalk reported as “bias incident” and erased by 8am.

APRIL 18, 2013, Thursday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken word and discussion event ripped down from public areas while other posters remain.

APRIL 18, 2013: students organising #Realtalk meet to discuss concerns about censorship and silencing of their voices. Idea of participating in the Dimensions Show arises, and the group debates for almost four hours about the possible consequences, both positive and negative. Some members decide not to participate.

APRIL 19, 2013, Friday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken word and discussion event ripped down from public areas while other posters remain.

APRIL 19, 2013, Friday: 9pm #Realtalk event attended by current students but small number of admitted students. Though official, college-sanctioned events promoting dialogue have taken place during the day, these college-endorsed events still promoted, even required, an ultimately positive review of the college, according to one activist.

APRIL 19, 2013, Friday:

Some individuals sneak into the Dimensions Show with fake wristbands and the intention of standing at the back between skits, chanting as though part of the show, and leaving calmly. Some people are recognised and asked to leave, at which point other group members leave with them. Unsure of what to do, the group gathers in Robinson Hall. One student, well-disguised as a ’17, learns that no more ‘17s are being admitted into ’53 Commons due to fire safety regulations. The people at the door have indicated that there is overflow viewing in the library. While the rest of the group is debating a march to the library, one student rushes over to the library to discover that no such collective viewing is happening.

Frustrated with the continued silencing of these voices and the stifling of this dialogue, the students decide to protest outside ’53 Commons. In the words of one protestor who wishes to remain anonymous, “we’re walking up; it’s pouring rain; we’re stepping these steps to the big colonial door and there’s the director of admissions standing in a suit with his arms blocking the door, two frat bros in fucking tank tops standing there, looking down their arms with their arms crossed, keeping us out of our space, physically blocking us from delivering our message like they have been all weekend… We said, please, we have a message, we have tried to speak in other ways, this is our cafeteria, we have something to say, excuse us. We did not touch them.”

Though protestors remain nonviolent, college employees do not. Another protestor, also wishing to remain anonymous, details that at this point another protestor “grabbed the door handle,” and the director of admissions “knocked her arm away.” This protestor “managed to get her foot in the door and started squeezing her body through the sliver.” One anonymous activist reports, “she’s in the middle of the door and they’re pushing the door on her body.” Another recalls saying, “stop it, you’re crushing her. Stop it, you have to open the door.”

Eventually a female administrator says “stop, you can’t do that to a student,” and the director of admissions opens the door, in the process tripping over “the leg of the frat guy,” according to an anonymous protestor, who also emphasises that the student who had been stuck in the door is “very physically small.” A different protestor says that this administrator tripped over his own leg, detailing, “people have been saying we assaulted but that’s not true at all.”

The next layer of security includes Tim Duggan, a tall college employee, who stood in a “football stance like ready to tackle,” according to one protestor, thinking this was a joke until when another protestor “walks up, he literally wrestles her… I can’t believe he just leaped on her!” Not having expected physical violence, the students are shocked and intimidated.

The third layer of security includes the participants in the Dimensions Show, some of whom are crying and begging the protestors not to disrupt the show on the basis that it will “ruin their life,” asking “why are you doing this to me?” One student mentions that she was holding a sign saying “I was called a fag in my freshman floor” as well as notes that the performers saw through the glass doors these protestors being subjected to physical violence.

As performers try to chant protestors out, the protestors begin chanting from their script. Performers then attempt to sing over the chants of the protestors, meaning that the original plan of chanting from the back between songs is no longer viable. The protestors are forced to go in front in order to convey their message instead of being silenced yet again. After physical harassment and a forced change of plans, protestors are bewildered and find it difficult to remain calm.

One activists comments, “people keep saying ‘they should have been more organised; they should have been these different things.’ But honestly, the people who were part of that protest are some of the most eloquent, brilliant, well-spoken people I know… ______ is a fucking actor. He is prepared for this, and he is so freaked out that he couldn’t finish… Why would we have been able to be completely calm?”

“Students are screaming at us, ‘This is not a dialogue! You’re doing it wrong! You’re doing it wrong!’” All previous attempts at dialogue had been silenced.

After creating this disturbance of the theatre that is Dartmouth, the protestors decide to walk out, having accomplished all that they think they can given the situation. Dimensions performers, as they walk out, in a monotone begin chanting, “We love Dartmouth.” Protestors trying to draw attention to their own personal experiences of being silenced and oppressed on the basis of race, gender, sex, sexuality, and socioeconomic class find this, “fucking creepy,” or, “”an eerie example of pervasive groupthink.”

After the protest, at least one protestor waits outside ’53 Commons to continue dialogue with ‘17s leaving the show. Most protestors seek out a safe space, an understandable plight given the physical violence to which they were subjected earlier in the night. Protestors gather to discuss possible repercussions from the college, though they have carefully researched and made sure to break no college rules.

A few hours later, the anonymous, hateful comments on BoredatBaker and comments on the article in The Dartmouth, which is edited without note of the changes made throughout the night, begin appearing. Individuals depicted in the picture that appears on The Dartmouth’s website begin receiving death and rape threats. The Dartmouth refuses to remove the picture despite how it endangers the personal safety of Dartmouth students. B@B comments are sexist, racist, transphobic, homophobic, and classist. Many protestors do not feel safe walking alone or even sleeping.

“How can people say this came out of nowhere? It was so obvious,” a protestor states.

Damn straight, there hasn’t been dialogue. It’s only dialogue if you listen when we speak.

A Defense of the Recent Protests

~ Nathan Gusdorf

Let’s consider some of the arguments surrounding the recent sexual assault protests. The fundmental positions largely track with the following categories: those who support the protesters’ message and disagree with the means, and those who disagree with both their methods and their substantive claims. Few seem to support them completely. Now that they have been subjected to threats and harassment, many show sympathy for their plight but qualify it with opposition to their actions. I think a defense of their work is in order.

I have had to rewrite this letter numerous times, because each time I look the The Dartmouth’s webpage or my Facebook news feed (let’s not even go into to the trash on boredatbaker), some new fanatical position has become the common wisdom. This includes outrage that they have not been prosecuted for trespassing. If you look at many past student movements, that turns out to be a common suppression tactic. The administration wisely did not pursue such measures. In a strange reversal typical of Dartmouth College, it is the students who hold opinions normally reserved for aging conservatives. I turned off my internet connection and decided to push ahead, hoping that Dartmouth could stall its regressive slide toward Strom Thurmond’s political platform long enough for me to write a short piece.

To begin, no one seems to dispute the central claim that sexual assault is a problem on Dartmouth’s campus, so I will assume this is uncontroversial. Doubtless this assumption will alienate the anti–pc, anti–feminazi fans of Dinesh D’Souza and Jonah Goldberg, but that’s a welcome loss. Most of us think that sexual assault occurs far too frequently on campus and that better methods are needed to combat it. Alongside this concern we have recent stories of derogatory graffiti, slurs, and other forms of racist, sexist, and homophobic harassment. So it’s safe to say that the message of the protesters, whether or not you think it is “exaggerated”, reflects a concern shared by many students and all of the administration. This page addresses those who are already sympathetic to their concerns. I won’t bother with trying to provide hard evidence for those who are wondering whether we’re talking about “legitimate rape”, for that is a different matter altogether.

A number of arguments against the protests merit a cursory examination. If sexual assault and discrimination really are unresolved problems, then one might naturally think that some protests are in order. Although by no means a Dartmouth tradition, there have been a handful of protests in recent history (predating Occupy). The Vietnam protests and the Shanty Town protests come to mind. I think today we can all agree that opposition to both the war and Apartheid was duly merited. Why then not sexual violence and discrimination?

Those most sympathetic to the cause readily admit that sexual assault is a problem, but they don’t like the protesters’ attitude. We are mired in demands for “constructive criticism and dialogue”. Although I’m quite sure that in most cases their intentions are sincere, these maneuvers function as little more than bureaucratic stonewalling. Set up a panel, schedule a meeting, use the time to schedule the next meeting, talk about how great it is that you’re talking, and on and on. The operative principle of any bureaucratic system is that it can return any result, so long as everything is done in the right way. In reality, this means that undesirable changes can be avoided by directing their advocates into endless cycles of nonsense. This does not even touch on the fact that typically within those “dialogues” any position too critical of the status quo is seen as rude and inappropriate. These accusations– rudeness, impropriety– are typically levelled against those who say what others do not want to hear. One goes on attempting to be polite and respectful, not stepping on any toes while carefully sharing feelings of dismay or exclusion, and at the end of the day all we are left with is… well, not much, other than knowledge of some people’s feelings. Any truly critical position, any attempt to take the school or the student body to task for structural inequalities, complicity with violence, discrimination, or the like, is dimissed out of hand for not being a “constructive” contribution. We are all familiar with the typical means of bureaucratic stonewalling, not least because we are master students of the trade.

Closely connected to the notion of “constructive criticism” is the demand for solutions. In context, this is ridiculous. If everyone on campus were committed to ending these ills, we wouldn’t have a problem. Clearly there are forces at play that protect and enable offenders. The structure of fraternity–centered social life is an obvious case. There is a power struggle afoot, and the protests were an effort to shift the balance. In any case, the demand for solutions is often enough disingenuous. Any proposal for change that doesn’t satisfy the desires of parties more powerful than rape victims will meet with little success. Other methods are needed.

Finally, in the milquetoast liberal line–up, there is the “counterproductive” argument. “I agree with you! But you hurt the cause by alienating people. It’s counterproductive!” Well, first, this is normally a liberal–moderate tactic that serves, when it succeeds, to put everyone on the left back in a position of powerlessly lamenting the status quo. It is worth noting, however, that sometimes this position is correct. Terrorist tactics are generally counterproductive (and, yes, reprehensible), as left–wing extremists groups of the 70’s like the Red Army Faction or the Weather Underground showed. Those failures can be analyzed reasonably well. If you want to end capitalism and in so attempting kill innocent people, public opinion tends to turn against not just against your organization but against your political project. If widespread violence seems to be requisite for the transition to socialism, then most onlookers will grow reticent about actively seeking out socialism. This situation is markedly different. How many students now think that we maybe shouldn’t end sexual assault on campus? Is anyone actually less concerned about homophobia today than they were the day before Dimensions? Evidently the protesters are not so popular right now, but this is progressive politics, not sales. Being “well–liked” is not the key to success.

Now, to deal with the most sensitive aspect of this matter, the choice of venue. Why prospective students? Because they have an awful lot of power. Alumni have power, students have power, donors have power, but prospective students as a demographic have the most power. A student who decides not to attend dartmouth because they do not want to be raped and hazed has made a powerful decision indeed. I know that the famous Rolling Stone article made the rounds in high school circles where I’m from, and despite the beliefs of Dartmouth students that everyone would assume the article was full of dirty lies, it seriously impacted people’s decisions. Is it a coincidence that this year they made an effort to focus on Dartmouth’s “intellectual side”? Bad publicity exerts pressure, and pressure is what we need. While students are content to work towards “positive solutions”, engage in “constructive criticism and dialogue”, “think innovatively” and otherwise spew neoliberal jargon, prospies have not yet been brainwashed into complacency. Well, some of them at least. So they are the doubly perfect target group for these contentious issues that go right to the heart of Dartmouth’s social problems.

As to the concern that such protests will discourage future activists from coming to the school, one need only play that argument through multiple iterations to see that it doesnt make sense. At what point in the cycle are students allowed to get serious about political action? Must it always be subservient to our most nationalistic impulses, or the university equivalent thereof? Plus, doesn’t it seem blatantly immoral to deceive students into attending?

One more thing that, remarkably, needs to be made clear. Civil disobedience does in fact mean breaking the rules. I am floored by the number of times I have heard or read students arguing , since the days of Occupy, that protest isn’t really nonviolent if it breaks the law, or that civil disobedience doesn’t mean breaking the rules. Any competent speaker of English should be able to deduce from from those terms their proper meanings.

There is a hypothesis that we need to consider, a belief held by the protesters and rejected by the rest of the school. What if we, as a community, are in fact not trying to end these forms of violence. What if, despite the hard work of many a peer advisor and abuse counselor, the net effect of all efforts on campus is to stall change in order to protect old institutions. What if the slow progress we see on this issue is not because we haven’t had enough discussion groups and panels, but because some would rather keep things the way they are? Then wouldn’t the protests be justified?

Everyone Depledges

As of April 1st 2013, every member of the Dartmouth Greek community has sent in an official request to de-pledge their fraternity or sorority, the first step in the de-pledging process. Dartmouth College, which used to boast some of the highest rates of Greek affiliation in the country, with 70% of eligible students being members of Greek houses, now shows a rate of 0% affiliated, putting it on par with schools like Hampshire and Vassar.

 

Many are curious as to why so many students chose to de-pledge, and in fact, they all cite different reasons, ranging from physical and mental health, to larger political and ideological problems with the Greek system, to the fact that fraternity basements are just plain gross.

 

Carl Bentley, a former member of Psi Upsilon, cited a sexist and patriarchal system as his main reason for de-pledging. “Why are there so many gender segregated spaces on campus? Separate but equal is not equal, this is third grade stuff. I don’t know why I never really thought about it before today.” His former brother, Brian Anderson, echoed these sentiments a little more bluntly: “We invite women into our male dominated space so that we can play pong with them and later sleep with them. I see women as so much more than just objects, and would like to pursue more equal and balanced relationships with them in the future.”

These sentiments were echoed in every Greek house on campus. At Alpha Xi Delta Fraternity for women, Ashley Lopez also lamented the sexist and archaic nature of the sorority system in particular. “We can’t have alcohol, we can’t have boys over, what is this, the 1800s? I also never realized how gendering almost every social space on campus might make life harder for those who don’t fit with the feminine or masculine ideal, or express their gender in different ways.”

 Alicia Cooke, an Alpha Phi, had this to say: “I’ve put up with this sexist and patriarchal system for so long because I’ve met some of my greatest friends in my sorority. But then I’m like, wait you don’t have to be in a sorority to have friends. Most people have normal, healthy, friendships that they are able to maintain even without the guise of Greek letters.” 

Hazing, another issue that has been in on people’s minds since an article was published in Rolling Stone Magazine last year was another reason people cited for de-pledging. Theo Bloom, a member of the class of 2014 and a former member of the Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity, cited hazing as his main reason for de-pledging. 

“Last year I got hazed, and that was no fun, and then this was the first year that I had to haze pledges, and it’s just getting exhausting, year after year we do the same thing. I don’t think I could do it again next year. I don’t really see the point.” 

Raymond Jones, former member of Alpha Delta fraternity, expressed a similar sentiment. “To be frank,” he told the Dartmouth Radical, “I never understood how homoerotic activity was supposed to build character, or brotherhood, or whatever. I also just think it’s offensive to any brothers who might be gay.” 

Another reason for the mass de-pledging was the exclusivity of the system. Ginger Erikson, member of the class of 2015 and former member of Kappa Delta Epsilon, de-pledged because she cannot, on her conscience, take part in Girls Rush next fall. “The weird thing is, it kind of worked out well for me,” said Erikson. “But I should put “worked out well” in quotes because I’m obviously subscribing to this understood hierarchy that makes people crazy. Since you’re being judged on your personality, instead of a specific factor like acting ability or basketball skills, Dartmouth girls who get rejected from their sorority of choice are forced to question their entire sense of self-worth. And you know, if I stay in KDE I would just be perpetuating that.”

The president of the Panhellenic Council also de-pledged, and dissolved Panhel, issuing the following statement: “The whole Greek system has been nothing but an embarrassment for the college, and I hope we can all just move past it as a community.”

Revolution in Economics Department

Dartmouth College’s Economics Department just officially approved new major curriculum including a Communist Economics requirement for the major. This addition to the curriculum comes as a surprise to many students, who thought that their Economics majors would prepare them for careers in finance.

In the words of Joel Whitley ’14, “if we have to learn about Communism, I don’t know if I’ll be able to work for Goldman.”

With dismay, Brian Jensen ’13 exclaimed, “Economics isn’t communist – Economics is about supply and demand. There’s no demand, especially not at Dartmouth.”

Lily Brown ’15, on the other hand, cites confusion but states that “it’s probably good, unless it’s some kind of neo-liberal Communism. I feel like Dartmouth would come up with that.”

A campaign has been gaining traction among the disgruntled student body. A Facebook page titled “Capitalism is Democracy” already has 500 likes, though it seems unlikely that any greater resistance will arise. 

Dartmouth Divests

Following the lead of Middlebury, Hampshire, Unity, and most recently Harvard, Dartmouth College announced today that it will be divesting from the top 200 fossil fuel companies. In a statement from Ander Dustinson, the college stated that it would even go a step further and divest from “all evil companies.”

After rereading the college’s mission statement, the board decided that, “in order to prepare students for a lifetime of responsible leadership and to instill a sense of responsibility for the broader world, we cannot ethically support … well, any companies really.” The board is holding emergency meetings to decide how to distribute the $3.6 billion endowment.  “We welcome student feedback,” the chairman said.

#Learn2Dartmouth: Bored At Baker Speaks

“blonde or brunette?”
“Fox or monkey?”
“Can you quack?”
“Midget porn, anyone?”

Almost every page on the website has a post gathering a poll on who the hottest freshman, kappa, GDI, professor, asian ’15, or “ginger gay couple” on campus is. There are posts on how to pick up girls, what Greek houses to rush, whether jockstraps are hot. Where’s the best weed on campus? Are they finally serving milkshakes at Late Night? And the most important question of all: “hookup?” Gay hookup?” “Pony hookup?” “Professorial hookup?” “Heil Hitler hookup?”

Bored at Baker is an online forum for Dartmouth students. Posts are anonymous. It’s kind of like bathroom graffiti except more interactive–you can link people to pornographic GIFs, a YouTube video of a cat getting ham thrown on its face, 4chan threads, or pictures of your–or someone else’s– dick. If you want to share something, b@b gives you the power to do so with social immunity. Screen names can be used to build up a profile linked to a “personality” whose posts resonate with a certain character type.

For example: from b@b superstar “beer”: Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy. Or from “Blackout Girl”: It’s not alcoholism until after college. There are almost four hundred personalities on b@b. Like beer and Blackout Girl, their names speak for themselves: Tits, Buzz Killington, Jim Kim, Frat Boi. LonelyAlumnus. Nice Jewish Boy.

Personalities are a good way to rack up points, another feature of b@b. To encourage interaction on the site, you receive points for clicks on links you post, private messages you receive, or the number of “agrees” and “disagrees.” You’re rewarded for certain point benchmarks, like getting the “Heartbeat Badge” which lets you see how many people are currently online. The idea is to get attention; to incite a reaction. There’s an notorious personality on b@b called “Relatively High Expectations Indian Father”, or RHEIF. He posts limericks (“There once was an Indian son / whose homework was quite far from done / Would not it be cool? / to eat at the Jewel? / but, alas, he chose Playstation!” – Limerick No. 2 from “Lost Sonnets”), fathering “tips”, and ironic references to imaginary comedic tours. He’s obnoxious and prolific. Everyone despises him. But he’s winning at b@b.

The forum isn’t a free-for-all. The creator of b@b is Jonathan Pappas, an alumnus of Columbia who goes by the pseudonym Jae Daemon. He has a rules page and a team of volunteer moderators to hold obscenity in line. Hate speech, spamming, and breaking anonymity in any way are “prohibited” though anyone who has been on the site knows that you can’t surf b@b without seeing at least one of the three.

Jae claims that there is a “human eye on everything.” If one of his moderators flag a post, they can take it down, suspend or deactivate the account behind it, or deduct five hundred points as a penalty. But b@b is bloated with content whose baseline of vulgarity is so high that it’s difficult for moderators to make judgment calls on how bad a post is. The “Rules” are closer to a set of guidelines; if a moderator were truly to adhere to them, they would empty more than half of b@b.

I tried to comb the site for what I considered the most vile comments, but found myself becoming desensitized in less than an hour. It wasn’t that I no longer recognized what was inappropriate and what was not; I had trouble comparing the “badness” of one post to another. For instance, how would you compare: sex with a muslim (A) sex with a donkey (D) and The APA hazing article makes me hate blacks, not frats.?

In the end, I chose a few posts at random from my growing archive:

: black people should just go back to Africa
: burn in hell faggot
: I’d never admit it, but deep down I’m bigoted to the point that I would never date/marry a girl who has ever slept with a black guy
: did jew bitches at auschwitz give blowjobs for the protein?
: Female Scumbag Holds forum on sexual assault and rape, denouncing Dartmouth’s “rape culture” and urging people to take back the night. Arrives at supertails early to take shots, black out, and have sex with AD rugby bro.

Jae is oddly serene about the whole thing. The top left corner of b@b has a little peace sign. He calls it a “family.” He describes it as a community that can change the world with a little love and nurture. “It can be lonely out there in the default world,” he writes. “One of us will always be here to listen.”

Jae is the creator of parent site “Boredat.com”, which provides the same service to other elite universities such as Harvard and Columbia. It’s his hobby. He doesn’t collect a profit. On his “Donations” page, he explains that he pays for everything because he wants to give the “concept” the chance it deserves. The concept? Allowing people to speak their mind.

According to server statistics, an average of eight hundred Dartmouth students peruse the site every day, or twenty percent of the undergraduate population. Among Boredat universities, Dartmouth consistently ranks number one, beating out universities with student populations almost double. We’re productive. Over the academic year, we generate about two thousand posts a day in addition to sending more than one hundred private messages.

…………………………


: MORE TITZ PLZ
: you guys, I think the asian 16’s might be grimmer than the asian 14s.
: Poll: i’d have sex with a sibling.
: I’ll bring the dick, you bring the nutella
: girls with eating disorders?
: fap n’ nap
: I just want a kinky Mormon wife.

I’m hunkered down in Berry 1. On my right is an embarrassing collection of coffee cups and empty wax envelopes. Evidence that despite my open laptop and squarely arranged notebook and pen, I have done nothing in the past few hours except take study breaks at KAF. There’s a girl in front of me studying what looks to be organic chemistry. Mysterious symbols in blue ink cover her notebook as her hand worries the page. On my left is a guy leaning forward in his gray swivel chair; alert. He suppresses a laugh. Youtube.

Berry 1 hums. Clusters of students are bent over keyboards. A few bury their hands into their hair as they stare intensely into a blank Word document. Another student takes off their boots to get comfortable (it’s going to be a long night) and someone else cracks their knuckles. We’re prepping.

I open up b@b. No matter how many times I’ve been on the site, surfing it in public always makes me feel self-conscious. I even have Facebook open in a tab so I can flip to it when someone walks by. Most people consider b@b to be another sewer in the filthy sin city of the internet. If you’re a heavy user, a denizen, you’re guilty by association. It’s a step up from 4chan, but it’s also more intimately nasty. Ten to fifty posts are reported every day–sometimes as many as a hundred. For every post removed for hate speech, three are taken down for naming names.

I put mine into the search engine. Depending on how obscure you’ve managed to be on Dartmouth’s small campus, what’s written about you most likely isn’t kind, if there’s anything at all. Your worst irrational fears may be confirmed: So that’s what people think. I type in names of friends, shocked when I see: “X is a flaming faggot and wants it up the ass.” In real life, X is slim, polite, and likes to wear sweaters. He could be any preppy kid at Dartmouth. He doesn’t identify with being gay. I wonder if I should tell him. It might alter his everyday interactions, make him think he’s too effeminate.

Most of the posts are impulsive; straight from mind to mouth. I keep flipping through the site:

: situations where its ok for a white person to say “nigga”
: Does having lots of sex make people nicer?
: Are tits tits?
: what is a sex?
: but srsly, would you get weirded out if I asked you to call me daddy in bed?

and then:

: gay hookup in the stacks?
: stacks anyone?

“The Stacks” at Dartmouth remind me of an elevator shaft in which someone threw their mammoth book collection. The book shelves look unfinished; skeleton-like. The fluorescent lights are covered in small, hanging flaps of white plastic. Every once in a while, you can hear a distant groaning as another part of the library shifts: rumbling desks, sighing walls. It’s drafty and cold, and the acoustics amplify small sounds like rustling papers, sliding chairs, Velcro straps, and sniffling. It’s where we go to “get things done.”

It’s not sexy, except that it is. Having sex in the Stacks is an erotic fantasy. It’s a tradition. It’s one of the “Dartmouth Seven”, a list of public places to have sex. Most students don’t pull it off.

…………………………


: if you give me a back massage, i’ll suck your dick.
: I want you to fuck my nose with your clit.
: any guys down to fuck and then eat ice cream hmu
: make me bleed then cum on me?
: I wish to plow you. Milady.
: Anal sex for fun and profit?
: Gangbang me?

Hookup requests start rolling in after six. Sometimes there’s a few that pop up mid-afternoon or in the morning, but they really start to dominate the b@b board once the sun goes down. Some people are just trolling, others comfortable and business-like (“gay hookup? post sn”), and some are like me. Total newbies with their hearts in their throats, hands clammy with thoughts of “what if.” I’m surprised at myself–it feels as nerve-wracking as a first date. The thought of breaking anonymity on b@b terrifies me. I’m so anxious my teeth are tingling.

“Hookup? F here,” I post and the ensuing replies are full of disbelief.lies says one user. pics please demands another, as if no decent or mediocre looking girl makes booty calls through something like b@b. This site is for desperate people, seemed to be the general consensus. Or gay hookups. Or straight men with an insatiable appetite for sex.

I try again, this time responding to a “straight hookup ” request from a male. We exchange screen names and move our advances from public b@b to private messaging. This is it, I think. People actually do this. I couldn’t believe it was working. I couldn’t believe that in maybe ten minutes, I’d be standing in front of some man I had summoned through b@b’s cyber realm, and that even though we knew nothing about each other–didn’t even have the context of a party–we were about to get intimate. Though it’s quite possible that we wouldn’t be complete strangers. Given the small size of Dartmouth’s student population, stumbling upon an acquaintance or even a friend through a b@b hookup is a real possibility. I chicken out.

I ask a friend what real b@b hookups are like. A year ago, he had hooked up a couple of times through the site, making it past the private messaging phase that I never could. Even my messages had been timid, too demure.

We sit across from each other. He’s wearing a light blue button-down with khakis. It’s rush week. We’re burning time before an event at his house.

“You say, like, your specs,” he says, hesitating. “Which is so fucking evil. I mean, how do you tell somebody to say your specs?”

“I never ask,” he continues. “I’ve never asked. But the person always asks and is like, ‘Describe yourself.’ And you go to describe yourself.”

Like how?

“Like muscular, skinny. Skinny and fit. Or, you know.” He pauses. “A little more to love…” He laughs. “It’s usually body type.”

I nod. It made sense. Because what else mattered in the dark, really?

Except sometimes other things did matter. I ask him if people ever bail after the “specs” phase.

“This is kind of fucked up but usually when I say I’m black,” he says. “That actually happens.” After reading so many posts on b@b, I can’t say I was shocked.

He sighs. Bored at Baker had ruined the “beauty and mysteriousness” of campus. He wishes he had never gone on the site. “I would’ve been a little more naive than I am now. And that’s a good thing.”

…………………………

In an article written by Columbia’s student magazine “Bwog”, Dartmouth’s b@b is described as a “late-night Facebook-alternative…where fraternity gossip and ‘hottest 2016 girl’ power rankings are common.” In contrast, Columbia’s Bored at Butler is a “more humane board dominated by a few power users…who prevail over the anons in enacting their vision of the site.”

Is Columbia’s b@b less profane than Dartmouth’s? I have no idea. It doesn’t matter. I only bring up Bwog’s comment because it suggests that our b@b is distinct. Nudie pics and douchebaggery may be universal when it comes to anonymous online forums, but there is definitely a “Dartmouth” flavor to b@b. There are obvious things, like fraternity and sorority rankings that surface every term, or references to professors, classes, dining halls–things that physically exist on the Dartmouth campus.

Sometimes, beyond the one-post trolls, and the hookups, and the long threads of cyber sex, actual dialogue happens. Like a vicious back-and-forth debate on a familiar Dartmouth topic: sexual assault. That may not surprise you, but the most popular posts might:

A post from personality Orange Keystone for example:

Pardon me for breaking character, but I’d just want to say that the “Speak Out” event that was held tonight has completely changed the way I think about sexual assault on this campus and elsewhere. To the women who shared their stories; thank you. Sincerely. To the Dartmouth community; this shit is serious. We need to collectively treat this issue with more gravity than I have seen from many at this school. To the trolls; maybe reconsider posting that next rape joke. It may be just a little too real for someone..

Or this post from a fraternity brother:

I’ve never heard of a sexual assault in my frat. I’ve had to turn down girls before because I knew they were too drunk. And I fucking hate having to take responsibility for some vague accusations of rape or hazing or alcoholism when I know the vast majority of Dartmouth men are like me.

Or this from an anon:

LOL@ the sexual assault “happening” on sunday morning. Girl gets wasted, fucks dude, then wakes up as he wakes up. Invents some “rape” story and now the whole campus is freaking out. Jesus christ what is wrong with people.

Do they matter? Should those people have a say? Should bigots, racists, rapists and misogynists have a voice?

…………………………


: i think it’s safe to say i’ve developed an eating disorder
: Paxil for the depression. I take about ten other meds for other things. I’m sick.
: My room smells like sperm and loneliness.
: what’s on my mind? well i’m having a mental breakdown and slept all day to keep from facing the pain, so yeah theres that.
: i share a drink called loneliness with everyone in frat basements … but its better than drinking alone
: I hope I don’t commit suicide.

The same anonymity that lets us post silly outbursts and hateful bigotry lets us post our despair. Some of us are so desperate and alone that the only audience we have and trust is an anonymous one. Maybe it’s the closest thing we have to screaming into a void. But there is feedback.

don’t do it! i’d miss you! an anon replies to a suicide post. “Pinkie Pie”, a well-known personality on b@b, posts *hug* on multiple depression threads. i’m lonely too OP. we can be lonely together writes another user. Others join in and offer advice: Shit Sucks, doesn’t it? I hope you get better, and if you want to discuss medications, pm me and we can exchange experiences. There’s a link to a psychologist in town and suggestions to visit Dick’s House. Lone voices gathering on a screen.

…………………………

As fragmented as b@b is, sometimes, if you’re on there long enough, a weird trend emerges; a mood. The thoughts gain coherence. It’s the id of Dartmouth.

I’ve tried to imagine how b@b would manifest itself in the real world, and I can’t. It’s too loud, too compressed. There’s a reason why it exists in an alternate, digital universe. There’s no place for it out here in the “default world.”


boredatbaker fascinates me. it’s ridiculous and full of lurking trolls and frankly, a waste of time. within the copy-pasted sea of troll-spam, however, i can’t help but feel that this anonymous guise brings out the rawest and most genuine pulse of a lot of the Dartmouth community and all of its mixed-up priorities. the ups and downs and flow of the amassed conversation, with the ability to go from confessions of inner conflicts and loneliness to superficial gossip about who iz da hottest aZn ’12 in 3 seconds, are what keep me reading this absurd campus phenomenon. keep it up, classmates.

-Eva Xiao

Fossil Fuel Divestment

I’ll admit my bias up front rather than pretend I don’t have one: I’m part of this campaign, which indicates already that I find it both persuasive and important. This piece of journalism will not be a neutral evaluation of every viewpoint (no piece of journalism is): it will instead seek to demonstrate the urgency of reacting to global climate change now and how a fossil fuel divestment campaign at Dartmouth fits into the scheme of a good reaction.

It’s true that the earth periodically undergoes ice ages; it’s also true that we are not currently in an ice age, which means that (assuming that the earth continues in the same pattern, which isn’t necessarily a valid assumption but also not one necessary for this argument) we are between ice ages. There. Look. I admitted that the earth has gone through cycles even without humans present upon it. However, humans do happen to be present upon it at this time, and we are not a factor to be ignored. What this means is that we have an effect upon the planet on which we live and that planet has an effect upon us. My argument will proceed upon the value-judgment that the non-racist, non-imperialist, non-classist survival of the human species is good. If you’d like to argue with me here, I welcome intellectual dialogue with you.

Ninety-seven percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that, “heat-trapping gases released into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels are already causing temperatures to increase” (Klein, “Capitalism vs. Climate”). Thirteen thousand nine hundred fifty peer-reviewed articles since 1991 confirm anthropogenic climate change while only twenty-four do not – it’s hardly a matter of attaining consensus at this point. This last decade was the hottest on record. Drought is decreasing the area of arable land, further excuse for genetic modification companies to bankrupt farmers. Sea levels are rising, causing devastating floods in countries that cannot afford complex levees, most of which have suffered from and continue to suffer from imperialist exploitation. Weather worldwide is becoming more extreme–hurricanes Katrina, Irene, and Sandy being only three examples – and the people most negatively affected by such weather are those without a financial safety net..

Buying greener products clearly isn’t going to cut it; capitalism, a system that prioritizes profit over people and the planet, is driving global exploitation of resources, and they’re running out. Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, writes in her article “Capitalism vs. Climate”: “The fact that the earth’s atmosphere cannot safely absorb the amount of carbon we are pumping into it is a symptom of a much larger crisis, one born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless, that we will always be able to find more of what we need, and that if something runs out it can be seamlessly replaced by another resource that we can endlessly extract. But it is not just the atmosphere that we have exploited beyond its capacity to recover—we are doing the same to the oceans, to freshwater, to topsoil and to biodiversity. The expansionist, extractive mindset, which has so long governed our relationship to nature, is what the climate crisis calls into question so fundamentally.”

Even if you’re not yet a proponent of the end of capitalism, climate change is going to affect you – whether you’re rich or not, white or not, American or not. Annie Laurie Mauhs-Pugh ’14 explains, “Our goal is to work and learn with the entire Dartmouth community. This is a campaign about our futures – all our futures. It is intrinsically intertwined with global health, social justice, environmental issues, economic sustainability, and much more. I invite the entire campus to join us in the learning process as we investigate the nature of investment, climate change, and our best path forward.”

A humanly inhabitable planet will affect all of our futures. In the words of Morgan Curtis ’14, “This isn’t a fight we’re fighting for the ‘environment’ – this is a fight we’re fighting for you, and me, and the global community.” This is why students all over the country and in various parts of the world are taking action to get their schools to divest from fossil fuels. Curtis continues, “We’re living in a way that is destructive to our own futures, and there’s a growing movement leading us in how to not do so. The divestment campaign is part of that movement.”

Divesting from the two hundred companies that own the majority of privately held coal, oil, and natural gas reserves is one strategy to work against the urgent threat of climate change. Divestment would make, according to Mauhs-Pugh, “a public, dramatic statement that our educational institutions do not support the use of fossil fuels beyond our allotted ‘budget,’” as well as reduce the huge clout these companies have in D.C. through demonstrating lack of public support for them and providing “policy makers with a ‘policy window’ to act in a just and sustainable way.” Additionally, divestment would help to ensure that our communities – our own funds and institution – are doing as much as possible to provide for our collective future. As Mauhs-Pugh urges, climate change is real: “It has already damaged the lives of people all over the globe; it threatens the existence of the world’s most vulnerable populations, it threatens the landscape that I grew up in and love.  And we can do something about it.  This campaign is the most tangible way available to create large scale change and slow the effects of climate change.”

Meanwhile Justin Anderson, Dartmouth’s Director of Media Relations, demonstrates that the college, currently, takes a different approach: “Dartmouth does invest in fossil fuel companies. It’s important to point out that we believe a very effective way to make fossil fuel companies more environmentally accountable, while also acting in the best financial interest of the institution, is for Dartmouth to use its status as a shareholder to vote for “green” shareholder resolutions, such as those that call for sustainability reporting and strategies that lower companies’ carbon emissions and boost clean energy efforts.” He does, however, attest, “it’s important to know at the outset that promoting sustainability is a vital component of how Dartmouth operates as an institution” and cites several campus initiatives such as the “Platinum LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, the top honor for energy- efficient and sustainable building practices” for the new Life Sciences Center, Dartmouth’s fifth LEED-certified building, as well as campus waste centralisation.

Campaigns have kicked off at Brown and Harvard; five Middlebury students sent out an email from a fake administrator claiming plans for divestment from arms and fossil fuels; Unity and Hampshire have taken positive stances to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy. Why isn’t Dartmouth on the bandwagon?

Dartmouth students are on the bandwagon, though Amalia Siegel ’16 cautions, “we are really trying to take the time to think over and develop our campaign’s goals, objectives, and tactics. We realize that this is a complex issue and that there are a lot of factors to take into account. Therefore, we are trying not to jump headlong into it without considering all of the complexities of the issue. We want the administration and the public to know exactly what we are asking before we put out any statements about our demands.” Leehi Yona ’16 adds that members of the campaign look forward to positive interactions with the administration and board of trustees.

As the Radical’s own adviser Jeff Sharlet has pointed out, divestment campaigns can be seen to endorse capitalism by indicating that consumer choice is the most effective means of driving change. However, like campaigns that involve fair contract negotiations, unions, or redistribution of wealth pre-distributed by capitalist systems, they also provide opportunity for the development of the critical, radical consciousness that opposes capitalism.

Of course, Dartmouth’s actions would be more in line with its mission statement including responsible leadership by ceasing to invest in companies that make our planet humanly inhabitable, and this indeed seems a goal of the fossil fuel divestment campaign. We should also note that these campaigns at institutions of higher education will put climate change at the forefront of the minds of a generation of college students.. Yona emphasizes that this “challenge of our generation transcends all borders” and that it isn’t merely a campaign for Dartmouth – it should also bring climate change to the attention of legislators.

Leftists: get on board: climate change is the most irrefutable evidence that capitalism isn’t working.

Environmentalists: it’s time you acknowledged that you’re radicals.

Everyone else: you live on this planet too. You should probably make sure our children’s children can too.

Mauhs-Pugh notes, “we move forward with humility. If you have suggestions or critiques, we welcome them. Nonetheless, we cannot remain bound up in second guessing forever. It must be with humility and hope that we look towards the future.”

Get involved: email divestdartmouth@gmail.com

-anna winham

To the Rich Kids

My pal Paulo tells me (on the second page of Chapter 1of Pedagogy of the Oppressed no less!):

“This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.”

I have a confession to make: I’m a rich kid (thus, oppressor?), and I know it’s dreadfully unseemly of me to declare myself so. In fact, this social convention is so clever precisely because it keeps so many of us from that crucial first move of beginning to explore the inequality and oppression in which we are complicit. Double-in-fact, it’s likely that many “rich kids” don’t even know we are rich kids – for reference’s sake, U.S. household income at the 95th percentile is around $148,000.

As Catherine Rampell explores in her New York Times piece “Why So Many Rich People Don’t Feel Very Rich,” income inequality in the upper percentiles of the U.S. actually increases. For example, data from the Paris School of Economics shows that the top 1-.5% average income is around $398,000; the top .5-.01% is around $722,000; the top .1% is around $2,296,000. In Rampell’s words, “when evaluating their own incomes, most families are trying to keep up with the Joneses: they envy the wealthier neighbor whose lifestyle they aim to match. And in dollar terms, the rich are falling far shorter of their respective Joneses than the middle-income and lower-income are. So when the 95th-percentilers think of their incomes in the context of what their richer neighbors are earning, this cohort doesn’t feel very rich. …It is perhaps no wonder, then, that so many people who are statistically rich call themselves ‘upper middle’ or even ‘middle class.’”

WARNING: YOU MIGHT BE A RICH KID TOO. In fact, the composition of the readership at Dartmouth College makes it statistically much more likely that you are than in the general population.

It’s tremendously uncomfortable to admit to myself yet another way in which I have benefitted and continue to benefit from the oppression of other people – in the form of, for example, receiving financial wealth from the company my father works for, investors in which are connected to companies funded by some workers who don’t earn a living wage – while still thinking this oppression is wrong and trying to take action to end it. But my personal discomfort isn’t much on wage or de jure slavery.

It has, however, made me uncomfortable to such an extent that I’ve basically ignored it for several years. This obviously isn’t a very practical solution to wealth disparity – to disregard my current place on the unjust spectrum.

There are plenty of people who have been born into or stumbled into or privileged into or even to some extent earned financial privilege who want social change and acknowledge that the system which produced this wealth is bad. These people, we these people, can ignore the fact that their, our, parents hang out with the CEO of Monsanto or sit on the board of General Electric or make a lot of financial donations (… and often these donations reside in the false generosity category, going to the schools of wealthy children, to museums, or to other institutions that primarily benefit the group of people who hold the resources already). Or we can engage with these facts and leverage our privilege as part of the complex, cross-class, solidaritous process to forge a more just society.

This thought gives me pause, and I wonder what Paulo would think of all this. It strikes me that he’d be on board, but only if this leveraging of privilege remains dialectical, dialogical, reflective, and with rather than for the people. Given his discussion of the absolute necessity of engaging critically with the world as Subjects in order to unveil the structures that we otherwise would not identify so as to arrive at an understanding of ourselves as historical Subjects – Subjects in a world always becoming – who, as such, can influence the future of the objective world with which we exist. It seems that the particular limit-situations of critical thinkers who also have financial wealth present their own set of challenges. The Subjects in these situations have multiple possible routes for action, but disengaging from this privilege surely demonstrates an unwillingness to think critically about the limit-situation.

The fact of the matter is, in order to achieve a more equitable distribution of resources, we can hardly ignore the people who have most of those resources currently. And, if we happen to be some of those people who hold more resources than is just, we cannot ignore the fact that we do so; we must instead engage with our financial and/or class privilege, in the process becoming more truly solidary rather than the dispensers of false ‘generosity.’

I have begun the process of reconciling my identity with my identity, of stopping conveniently ignoring specific parts of where I come from, of paying lip-service to “engaging with privilege” while not actually engaging with my privilege at all. I hope you’ll join me, whatever your particular background. I hope we can help each other learn.
– Anna Winham

When Starbucks Comes to Town

The Starbucks Mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

In September 2012 the world’s largest coffee chain arrived in Hanover. Promptly thereafter Dirt Cowboy lost 25% of its business, while Umpleby’s suffered a noticeable decline in its morning sales. Even Toby Fried, owner of Lou’s, has worried that Starbucks may permanently depress his revenue.

That Starbucks existentially threatens local cafes is not news. Since 1999, the global Starbucks footprint has grown from 2,498 to 18,066 locations. The company now commands nearly 4% of all coffee consumption worldwide. Its $13 billion revenue, however, no longer comes from coffee sales alone; Starbucks now sells everything from ice cream, to tea bags, to coffee machines, while the company controls an ever-expanding brand portfolio that includes, among others, Tazo Tea and Evolution Fresh.

Yet Starbucks’ domination does not represent the skillfully managed victory of one company over others, all operating on a level playing field. Rather, Starbucks’ corporate size grants it unprecedented advantages. Small cafes simply cannot contend with a company that cultivates fierce brand loyalty among millions and which, in 2011, spent $141 million on advertising alone. In an ever-growing number of regions, the company has achieved clear monopoly status.

Its economies of scale have also facilitated a particular strategy of saturating local markets with more shops than local demand justifies. Within its annual reports, Starbucks calls this approach “cannibalization”: the company oversaturates a local market and thus causes sales declines in all area shops (including Starbucks’). While a couple Starbucks’ may go out of business, so will numerous local cafes. This, in turn, enables the remaining Starbucks’ to establish monopoly control of the market. Small businesses can only sustain losses for short periods. Starbucks, on the other hand, will permit losses almost indefinitely, as long as monopoly status is eventually achieved. Hanover itself offers evidence of this strategy: Starbucks coffee is sold in Collis, there is a Starbucks café in the Barnes and Noble bookshop, and now, right across the street, Starbucks has opened yet another location. Since September, downtown sales declines have been ubiquitous.

To further assess the local impact of Starbucks, I traveled to the southern New Hampshire city of Keene, where the company first established a café in 2004. Today, Starbucks also sells coffee in the local Target, a downtown Marriot hotel, and Keene’s hospital—one of the region’s largest employers. Unlike Hanover, however, the coffee giant has had little effect on local cafes. Indeed, Judith Rogers, owner of Prime Roast Coffee Co., located on Main Street, says, “They [Starbucks] spend a lot of money on advertising about specialty coffee, and yes they’re advertising their brand but they’re also educating people about how much better coffee could be. So in some respects they’re helping out the entire industry, I think.”

Yet there is a crucial difference between the café market in Keene and that in Hanover. In the former, Starbucks is located in a strip mall, about a mile away from downtown Keene. In Hanover, however, Starbucks is on Main Street. Indeed, regarding Starbucks’ location, Rogers didn’t equivocate: “If they were next door to me, I wouldn’t be very happy.” Jeff Murphy, owner of another small, downtown café, agreed: “The only real threat I could see is if they just decided to put a shop right on Main Street.” The crucial distinction, then, lies in geography: the closer Starbucks is to Main Street, the more real the threat.

This looming danger in Keene has become a reality in Hanover, to which the ubiquitous drop in coffee sales testifies. As Dirt Cowboy owner Thomas Guerra says, Hanover contains a limited market for coffee: “This town is finite. There is a certain amount of cups of coffee that go out.” Charles Umpleby, owner of Umpleby’s Bakery and Café, agrees: “there’s a certain amount of business out there and that’s not really growing so it has to come from somewhere.”

As small businesses shut down, the urban landscape coheres into a bleak homogeneity. Streets in Beijing can increasingly be mistaken for those of New York, Mumbai, and perhaps eventually Hanover. In countless urban areas, the same giant corporations—Starbucks, McDonalds, J.Crew—populate the commercial geography. The richness and heterogeneity of local culture is besieged by accelerating corporate consolidation.

Yet Starbucks’ arrival in Hanover represents more than a simple challenge to the aesthetic and cultural identity of our community; it actually tears the fabric of collective life. According to Lou’s owner Toby Fried, whereas local businesses participate in community life, larger corporations like Starbucks abstain from such engagement. “I don’t think it’s good for the town,” he says. Fried further notes that local businesses are a consistent source of donations for community causes, while Starbucks has a poor track record of such giving.

When I called the Hanover Starbucks for comment, the manager responded, “we cannot comment to the media.” She hung up before I could even thank her.

In Starbucks’ ownership model, Guerra finds a rationale for its disengagement from communities. “Starbucks is a publicly held corporation,” he says. “Like every publicly-held corporation their primary… obligation is to their shareholders. The whole idea of a publicly-held corporation is to pay as little as humanly possible, to spend as little as possible, and put as much money back into the pockets of people who have done nothing.”

According to Guerra, small businesses thrive only through constant engagement with their local communities. Not only does the corporate weight of Starbucks enable community disengagement, it has also facilitated significant tax avoidance. In a recent investigation Reuters discovered that, as of last October, Starbucks had only paid British corporate tax for one of the last fifteen years. In the past three years, moreover, Starbucks saw UK sales of $1.9 billion, while not paying a penny of tax there. Today, ordinary Britons continue suffering massive, austerity-induced cuts in social spending; their national economy contracted .1% last year. This ailing society has nonetheless facilitated obscene profits for Starbucks. Rather than giving back, however, Starbucks further consolidates its global dominance.

“It is this kind of stuff that the big companies do on a continuing basis that I have to admit makes a small business owner wonder why they bother to even try and compete with these chains,” ponders Umpleby. He adds, “The romantic in me answers that what we do is important as it is what contributes to a good quality of life.” Yet in a radically redrawn global economy, the odds are against the Umplebys and the Dirt Cowboys of the world. -Eli Lichtenstein