COLLEGE
04/29/2013 05:34 pm ET

Dartmouth May Punish Protesters Subjected To Rape, Death Threats

AP

More than a week after activists interrupted Dartmouth's "welcome show" for prospective students to highlight issues of sexual assault, racism and homophobia at the prestigious New Hampshire school, the uproar hasn't subsided. The student protesters have been hit with vicious online threats. Neither a day of canceled classes last Wednesday nor a campuswide letter sent out Friday by the chairman of the school's board of trustees seems to have eased the situation. And some are suggesting that real change requires an overhaul of the school's Greek life.

In his Friday letter, Chairman Steven Mandel appeared to equate those making rape and death threats with the protesters who interrupted the April 19 welcome show as examples of a decline in Dartmouth's campus climate. He warned that both could potentially face punishment.

"Neither the disregard for the Dimensions Welcome Show nor the online threats that followed represent what we stand for as a community," Mandel wrote.

Asked by The Huffington Post, Dartmouth spokesman Justin Anderson declined to address who might face punishment by the college.

The online threats directed at the welcome-show protesters called them "faggots" and declared they would be raped, lynched and shot. The worst of these threats, the students said, were posted anonymously on the bored@baker forums, a website restricted to people with a valid Dartmouth email address.

The posts were "terrifying," said Anna Roth, a Dartmouth senior who was part of the group that received threats. "Many of the protesters were too scared to go to class Monday [last week]," Roth said.

Anderson said that the administration is in contact with bored@baker and the student newspaper whenever threatening comments are made on their websites.

The threats continued for days, according to students involved. On the morning of April 23, students wearing black walked into a meeting of administrators and faculty to demand action. They asked Dartmouth officials to read the profane threats and online harassment out loud. Michael Bronski, a women's and gender studies lecturer at Dartmouth who was there, said it wasn't long before everyone in the room was in tears or close to it. A short time later, the administration announced it would cancel classes the following day to try to restore civility on campus.

That Wednesday, Dartmouth held a series of discussions and teach-ins, which the college estimated were attended by 1,500 people. In a speech to students, interim Dartmouth President Carol Folt described the campus climate as akin to a "pressure cooker very close to exploding," according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Canceling classes wasn't a popular decision. A poll from The Dartmouth student paper found that 67 percent of students disagreed with the decision, and a majority thought the administration's actions were ineffective to ease tensions. The paper reported that one student, junior Roger Lott, stood on campus with a sign reading, "Dartmouth is a safe place, Stop scaring prospies. I paid for class. Where is it?"

Dartmouth sophomore Nastassja Schmiedt, part of the protesting group, told HuffPost that they continued to receive hate mail after the teach-ins. She gave as one example an email with the subject line of "thievery" and the body simply reading, "You owe my family $280 in tuition for forcing classes to cancel."

Bronski said that nothing will be resolved until the administration radically changes the Greek system, which he suggested lies at the core of many of the school's social problems. According to Bronski, at least half of the gay male students he has taught said they had been verbally assaulted at frat house parties or walking across campus at night.

"No doubt that most everybody on the faculty blames the Greek system for these problems," Bronski said, contending that 80 percent of professors and lecturers, given the chance, would radically overhaul the Greek houses.

Schmiedt said the protesters who were threatened do not feel safe walking alone near fraternity row.

Nina Rojas, another Dartmouth student involved in the welcome-show protest, agreed that "the real problems of the school go back down to the Greek system," which she believes the administration does not hold accountable.

Criticism of the Greek system is nothing new at Dartmouth. The faculty at the College of the Arts and Sciences voted 81-0 in 2000 to urge the board of trustees to withdraw recognition of the Greek houses, which would have effectively ended the system. A similar vote was taken in 1978. The administration chose not to follow either resolution.

In February 2012, 105 Dartmouth professors signed a letter decrying the "moral thuggery" at campus fraternities. The letter said there's a "pervasive hazing, substance abuse and sexual assault culture that dominates campus social life," and the fraternities are at the root of it.

"I don't see how really we're going to make the structural systemic changes we need to make unless we have an honest discussion about what the source of these problems are," said Ivy Schweitzer, a Dartmouth English professor. She added, "The structural issues are the Greek system, short and simple."

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