In my address to the faculty of Dartmouth College last November, I painted a vision of what our College could become. I spoke of a campus that is intellectually energized, a place of big ideas and bold efforts. A place with the courage to take on the world’s most urgent problems and pursue its most compelling opportunities. A community where students are formed into leaders through rigorous academic training and shared efforts to make a difference in the world. Unfortunately, extreme and harmful behaviors stand between us and that vision.
In my ten months as president of Dartmouth, I have seen first-hand how these behaviors can disrupt young lives. The list is painfully familiar: from sexual assaults, to a culture where dangerous drinking has become the rule and not the exception, over-the-top hazing, parties with racist and sexist undertones, intolerance of others, disruptive dialogue and disgusting and at times threatening insults lobbed in the anonymity of the internet. The fact is that extreme behavior that can cause harm to members of our, or any, community is not cool. In fact it is the opposite of cool.
Some say that these problems are simply endemic to campus life, the problems are intractable, and that efforts for reform elsewhere have yielded little change. This notion, in my view is an indefensible excuse for inaction.
These behaviors by a few rogue actors are dividing our community and distracting us from our important work of teaching and learning and advancing the frontiers of knowledge. They stand in the way of our ability to achieve our vision for the future.
In March, the chairman of the Dartmouth Board of Trustees wrote to the community challenging the status quo, and on Wednesday night we convened a rare student summit to drive home one simple point: enough is enough. I called for the entire Dartmouth community to come together to propose and evaluate an ambitious range of solutions that extends far beyond the actions we have taken thus far. While our efforts to date have included important steps – such as a new sexual assault policy that includes mandatory expulsion and an external investigatory process, training for students to recognize and prevent potential sexual assaults, and initiatives that tackle high risk drinking — what is different today is that we are now seeking fundamental change in every place on campus where social activities take place: residence halls, Affinity houses, Greek houses and other campus organizations.
The reform plan that we kicked off this week, as part of our larger campus conversation about Moving Dartmouth Forward, is the beginning of an accelerated campaign to improve social life on campus. A Presidential Steering Committee consisting of students from a cross-section of campus, faculty, staff, and alumni will work together through November to identify the best solutions that will address these problems.
The committee will focus on high risk drinking, sexual assault and inclusivity, and will spend the summer researching and crowdsourcing ideas for a better way forward. They will look at practices that are working elsewhere and speak with the leading experts in each of these areas. A report of recommendations will be presented to the Board in November, and implemented immediately thereafter.
Importantly, the composition of the committee reflects our practical belief that change will not come from the top-down. Yes, it is on me as Dartmouth’s president and on my administration to declare “enough is enough,” and that risky and harmful behavior will not be tolerated. But it is the responsibility of the entire community to invest in the effort, and to ultimately restore campus life to a safe and sustainable place. True and lasting change will come because of a change in ethos by every member of our community.
At a time in our history when global challenges demand complex, cross-disciplinary solutions, higher education occupies a singular place in our society. We cannot realize this great and growing promise, however, without first restoring civility to campus life.Phil Hanlon is the President of Dartmouth College.