Dartmouth Students: Class Cancellation Not Particularly Effective

April 29, 2013

Dartmouth College students and administrators are still expressing mixed reactions to the school’s decision to cancel classes and instead have a "Day of Reflection and Understanding" last Wednesday in response to some online posts that were hostile to student protesters. 

Student body president Suril A. Kantaria remarked that while "the community does need to come together now to discuss issues that are prevalent," it might have been better to respond in a way that didn’t interfere with classes. "We’re at Dartmouth to study and that comes first," he said.

Benjamin D. Reese Jr., president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education, noted that holding discussions during regular classes might have been more effective "because students and staff who attend the sort of programming put on by … Dartmouth tend to be of similar mind." Or, as Inside Higher Ed‘s Allie Grasgreen put it, Dartmouth’s program speakers may have been "preaching to the choir." Indeed, it seems that many students chose not to participate: "By no means were these attended by a majority of the student body," Kantaria said. 

Some students were also disturbed by the administration’s failure to address the protest itself that inspired the online commentary. Inside Higher Ed points to this response:

An editorial in The Dartmouth, the student newspaper, said, "The message seems to be that, if you fly a political banner, are sufficiently angry and manage to break enough college rules, you can gain a stranglehold over the administration." 

FIRE’s Will Creeley commented on this problem in IHE as well:

It is "telling" that Dartmouth responded to the message board comments so quickly and dramatically, yet did not address the silenced speech of the students whose presentation was interrupted, said William Creeley, director of legal and public advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. "Free speech does not entail the right to silence others, and that’s what happened here," Creeley said, adding that students disagreeing with what someone else said does not warrant canceling classes (and if the posts are truly threatening, police should be the ones intervening). "While a well-intentioned response, I think that it puts a premium on nasty speech in a way that gives attention to the speech that it otherwise would not have received." 

Ultimately, though the program provided many students with a forum to speak out, it’s unclear how much it benefited the the community at large:

"Did we solve anything?" [Kantaria] said. "I wouldn’t say we arrived at a long-term solution. I think what these community gatherings do is create temporary relief for students who really need to express their viewpoints and talk about the problem." 

Read more about what observers had to say at Inside Higher Ed.

Schools:  Dartmouth College