November 20, 2006

Letter from President Wright

Responding to a number of incidents this term, President Wright sent out a letter today addressing the issue of racism directed at Native Americans on campus. For those of you who may not have received it, I'm quoting the last few paragraphs, which I find honestly inspiring, even though it was, from what I hear, forced:
There will always be individuals - including some who are members of this community - who empower themselves by disrespecting others. They are few in number but this is not about numbers. Some who have engaged in the incidents of the last few months may be unaware of the disrespect that is entailed and the hurt that is felt. That should no longer be an excuse. The rest, those who know of the hurt and disrespect and persist nonetheless, are simply bullies. "Free speech" rights are regularly asserted by the latter.

Certainly, freedom of expression is a core value of this institution. The College is not going to start a selective dress code and we do not have a speech code. Free speech includes the right to say and to do foolish and mean-spirited things. We have seen several examples of this exercise this fall. But free speech is not a right exclusively maintained for the use of the mean and the foolish - it is not unless we allow it to be, and then the free part has been minimized.

Let me exercise my right of free speech: I take it as a matter of principle that when people say they have been offended, they have been offended. We may apologize and explain, we may seek to assure that offense was not intended, but it is condescending to insist that they shouldn't be offended, that it is somehow their fault, and that they are humorless since they can't appreciate that what was perceived as offensive is merely a "joke." And it is the worst form of arrogance for anyone to insist that they will continue to offend on the basis of a "right" to do so. Communities depend upon rights. But they also thrive upon mutual respect. This community thrives because each generation of students understands and advances this principle, which finally is more effective than any administrative sanctions or speech codes.

This College is sustained by you, by the commitment of Dartmouth students to fairness, to each other and to the wholeness of this community. I am encouraged by those of you who have reached out and have spoken out. I respect and thank those who have acknowledged and apologized for actions that proved to be hurtful. Yet many students with whom I have spoken over the last few weeks have not engaged in this conversation. We all should do this. This is not an abstract debate but a real issue. Dartmouth's strength is the sense of belonging and inclusiveness that marks our values.
I don't have time to cover some of the remarks on the letter and the events leading up to it (Malchow 1, 2; Dartlog 1, 2) but rest assured I'll get to them soon. For now, just know that Joe Malchow is still a douchebag and The Review still thinks its shit doesn't stink.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7:51 AM

    Is this about the crew formal and the Indian logo again? Please tell me that there's something more to it than just this. The Indian logo debacle has been rehashed over and over again. Some people think it's racist, and others think that scrapping it was sacrificing tradition to political correctness. The people who want it to come back will never be in the majority, but they'll never shut up about it either. The main thing keeping this issue alive as a debate (as opposed to an internal conversation at the Review) is probably the fact that Dartmouth hasn't put a decent mascot in its place, so there will always be some among the indifferent majority who are willing to entertain the notion that the Indian logo would be much cooler than the "Big Green" or the moose. The only statement that's been made in the logo debate in the last 15 years is the introduction of Keggy.

    On the crew formal and on the general issue of free speech, I think Jim Wright's response is appropriate, both for what he says and for the fact that he's not trying to punish anyone. I disagree with him on some minor points, but as he says, he's entitled to his opinion. "Free speech" can be difficult concept, but it certainly doesn't mean that others can't judge you by your words and actions.