Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Vigilantism at Dartmouth: Dartmouth Women’s Response to Sexual Assault

Front page of "The Shit You Don't Hear About..." flyer
Twenty-two years ago, a flyer was posted all around Dartmouth’s campus with a shocking message. On the flyer, titled The Shit You Don’t Hear About, are articles airing out the transgressions of Dartmouth organizations and members of the community. The flyer was published anonymously, for fear of social and physical retaliation. Its biggest story is a poem performed at Beta Theta Pi (de-recognized by the College following this incident) in its fraternity meetings in the summer of 1995. The poem boasts about the sexual exploits of brothers of Beta Theta Pi. The poem includes racist comments against Native Americans, lewd objectification of the female body, body-shaming, and boasting about rape. Names of real Dartmouth students were used in the poem, as characters with dialogue and descriptions. The publishers of The Shit You Don’t Hear About redacted these names before posting the document. It also includes an article about Alpha Chi Alpha’s “Pledge Banquet Skit,” which features “mastectomy jokes, as well as material sure to be offensive to all women, and Asian/Asian-American students,” an article about intimidation and harassment tactics by the Alpha Delta Fraternity (de-recognized in 2015), and articles about the racist and sexist exploits of other members of the Dartmouth community.

Second page of the flyerWhile it is the only flyer (that I know of) published by this particular group, The Shit You Don’t Hear About does not stand alone. Dartmouth College has a history of women standing up when they feel the administration and community have failed them. Before the flyer went public, its publishers had littered the lawns of Alpha Chi Alpha and Beta Theta Phi with manure in retaliation. In 1989, a rally and campaign were held by an estimated 100 students in response to Dartmouth’s refusal to bring a male student, Kevin Acker, before the Committee on Standards after being accused by two female students of sexual assault. Posters were circulated with Acker’s face on it, warning students to stay away from him. (While not tried before the COS in relation to accusations from these two women, Acker was found guilty of “sexual misconduct” against a different woman at a later date.) In 1996, again posters of a student accused of sexual assault were again circulated around campus, this time anonymously.

In my research of sexual assault at Dartmouth College, again and again I have come across evidence of brave women who take justice in their own hands, not only to punish the accused, but to protect their fellow Dartmouth students. When Dartmouth denies a hearing with the Committee on Standards, or ignores a survivor’s report, or fails to adequately discipline those convicted, a sexual assaulter runs free and the Dartmouth community is put in danger. This type of vigilantism was an effort to curb that danger. Every person who saw one of those posters knew that the person depicted was not safe to hang around, and that sexual assault was not tolerated by this part of the community. That is an important and noble message, even and especially today.

It is sad that so many people, for good reason, have little faith in the judicial procedures concerning sexual assault on campus. It is, however, nice to know that even when Dartmouth does not step up, there are people on campus who do.

To look at the flyer, come to Special Collections and ask to see the Sexual Harassment Vertical File.

Posted for Faydra Richardson ’20, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2019 Summer term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship provides full funding for a current Dartmouth student to conduct research with primary sources during an off-term on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college’s past. For more information, visit the fellowship's website.

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