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Dartmouth Students Take Over President's Office, Demand Response To Freedom Budget

Apr 02, 2014 | Updated Apr 02, 2014

A group of Dartmouth College students staged an overnight sit-in Tuesday at the office of the Ivy League university's president, demanding a point-by-point response to a list of action items the protesters say will address a variety of issues on the campus.

The activists unveiled a Freedom Budget in February with over 70 specific actions they want the Dartmouth administration to take to address students' concerns over diversity, perceived sexism and the campus climate for minorities and the LGBT community. Students entered President Phil Hanlon's office Tuesday afternoon at 4 p.m. asking for a point-by-point response, following what they felt was a half-hearted statement about their budget from Dartmouth a day before finals on March 6.

"None of those points are just thrown in there because we thought they should be there," Jillian Mayer, a Dartmouth senior, said in a phone interview from Hanlon's office. "People spent a lot of time building this Freedom Budget. I am not willing to prioritize certain things over others when all of these issues work towards the same goal."

The Freedom Budget's items include hiring more racial minorities as faculty, implementing more gender-neutral housing and bathroom options, banning the term "illegal immigrant," evaluating the Greek system's role in sexual assault, and harsher punishments for those who commit sexual violence.

More than 30 students were part of the protest, with fewer than 10 staying overnight in Hanlon's office and another dozen outside of it in the administration building. The rest rejoined in the morning, and around 75 participated in a protest in front of the building Wednesday afternoon.

Dartmouth administrators quickly moved to declare that they would not offer a detailed response to the protesters' demands. Hanlon and Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson met with the protesters Tuesday to try to persuade them to leave, at one point suggesting the president's power was mainly related to soliciting donations.

"The president's top, sort of, chief responsibility, is chief fundraiser, right? So Phil's out a lot," Johnson told the protesters, who livestreamed and transcribed the exchange. "He's raising money for the institution. He's out cultivating donors. That's what we hired him for. That's what presidents do."

Hanlon followed up Wednesday with a campus-wide email about the student activists' concerns:

Their grievance, in short, is that they don't feel like Dartmouth is fostering a welcoming environment. I met with these students yesterday and again today, and I deeply empathize with them. I made it clear, however, that meaningful change is hard work. Progress cannot be achieved through threats and demands. Disrupting the work of others is counter-productive. Academic communities rest on a foundation of collaboration and open dialogue informed by respectful debate among multiple voices.

Hanlon also met with protesters Wednesday to reiterate the message and confirm the college will conduct a campus climate survey, as recommended earlier by the Committee on Student Safety and Accountability made up of faculty, students and staff.

The protest is the latest in a series of actions students at the school have taken over the past year calling attention to social issues on campus.

Last April, a group of students calling themselves Real Talk Dartmouth demonstrated against racism, homophobia and sexual assault at an event for prospective students. Those protesters, some of whom are currently involved in the Freedom Budget, faced death and rape threats after their demonstration, prompting the college to cancel classes.

Dartmouth senior Anna Winham, who was involved in both demonstrations, said she was inspired to join the protests after she felt the campus mishandled her sexual assault case. Dartmouth's handling of sexual violence is currently under federal review.

Fellow senior Aby Macias said students have exhausted more "appropriate" channels for enacting change. Macias said she joined the protest after she attended a student dinner party with Johnson to discuss sexual violence on campus that simply resulted in a plan to distribute water and pizza at Greek houses to keep people from getting too drunk.

Christian Nakazawa, a freshman protester, noted the group is not assigning blame to every house or every member of the Greek system. But as the campus climate stands currently, "I would not be comfortable with my younger sister coming here," he said.

Dartmouth has annoucned a $3.6 million plan for a Triangle House, meant as a safe haven for LGBT students and allies. It is also moving toward a tougher sexual assault policy, and spent $1.1 million on initiatives devoted to sexual assault, high-risk drinking and campus climate in the last three years.

"I think the Dartmouth students' main critique is we're being rude," Winham said, describing to how some students have reacted to the protesters."Racism is more than just rude, sexism is more than just rude, sexual assault is more than rude. If I have to be rude in order to protect my body and myself and my friends, then I must be rude."

Read a copy of the Freedom Budget in its entirety below:

The Plan for Dartmouth’s Freedom Budget: Items for Transformative Justice at Dartmouth by thednews

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