Dartmouth’s Freedom Budget: Peaceful Protest, or Intolerant Tolerance?

Marilee Turscak

On April 1, 2014, 35 students at Dartmouth College chanted in protest and staged a sit-in at the office of Dartmouth president Phil Hanlon. The students planned to discuss their “Freedom Budget,” a list of demands insisting that the college “eradicate systems of oppression as they affect marginalized communities on this campus.”

Hanlon arrived at his crowded office in the afternoon and suggested to the students that they take a “more constructive approach.” He told the protestors, “Demands, threats, disrupting the work of others—that’s not the way to do it.”

He left his office at 5:00PM, but several students camped out overnight with the hope that they might prompt administrative action.

Since then, Hanlon has promised to crack down on protestors with a call “to end the extreme behaviors that are in conflict with our mission.” But Hanlon’s solution—a committee to look into “high-risk drinking, sexual assault, and inclusivity”—seems half-hearted at best.

The controversy has persisted since the end of February, when the Concerned Asian, Black, Latin@, Native, Undocumented, Queer, and Differently-Abled students at Dartmouth College first published their plan for a social justice makeover. Their “Freedom Budget” made over 70 demands addressed to 13 administrators.

The list proposes that the college “increase the enrollment of black, Latin@, and Native American students to at least 10 percent each” and increase the number of “faculty/staff of color” in all departments.

The demands range from large:

  • ensuring that the university make a “multi-million dollar commitment” to hiring “faculty/staff of color”
  • guaranteeing that at least “47% of doctoral students are people of color”

to small:

  • banning the unofficial Indian mascot
  • renovating the African American residence hall

to obscure:

  • banning the term “illegal immigrant”
  • replacing checkboxes on forms with write-in boxes to provide options for “trans*, two-spirit, agender, gender-nonconforming, and genderqueer folks.”

“Genderqueer,” along with “womyn” and “Latin@,” (the inclusive and efficient word for both Latino and Latina) are among the undefined hyper-PC buzzwords scattered liberally throughout the list.

The Concerned students provide little explanation for the bizarre rubric used to determine what made the cut for their list. For instance, why is it that 47% of doctoral students must be “people of color”? How did they come up with this number? Are they working from the biblical notion of “40” and “7” as holy numbers, symbolizing completeness? To fill this quota, the school would either need to force students to continue their education and pay out of pocket, allow unqualified students to continue with the program, or unjustifiably eliminate candidates from the program in order to meet the quota percentage.

Why, also, would the students find it necessary to ban an unofficial mascot? The Indian was only regarded as an emblem from the 1920s through the 1970s, and the college never officially endorsed it. In 1974, the Trustees declared the "use of the [Indian] symbol in any form to be inconsistent with present institutional and academic objectives of the College in advancing Native American education.” It hardly seems necessary to ban a mascot that does not exist.

Moreover, the projected costs of these budget items is not specified. How many more campus administrators would need to be hired to oversee the proposed measures? How much would it cost to create “both gender-specific and gender-neutral” restrooms in every building on campus? How much would tuition need to increase to cover the “multi-million-dollar commitment” to fulfillment of racial quotas? Tuition hikes aren’t very inclusive to low-income applicants. Did the Concerned students think of that?

Of the many measures listed, some are not exactly legal, such as “Allow undocumented students to be able to work similarly to international students.” The students also demand that Dartmouth create courses in Chicana/o studies, South Asia and the Middle East, sexualities, social justice, Korean and Hindi-Urdu languages, and the history of undocumented immigrants in the United States. For the latter, they even specified how the course should be taught—it should put a positive spin on illegal immigration and teach “how the DREAMers changed the civil rights movement.”

It is puzzling that a group of Ivy League students would create such an obscure, inarticulate, and unrealistic list of demands. Do they truly expect the college to implement this “multi-million dollar” proposal?

As for the occupation of President Hanlon’s office this week, it met with mixed reactions from other students.

Odon Orzsik (’17), an international student, told the Dartmouth Review, “I admire that some people are sticking up for a cause, even though I don’t quite understand [it] - I haven’t personally experienced white male patriarchy.” He went on to say, “I don’t think [the protest] is a productive way to further their goals.”

Another international student, Maieda Janjua (’17), told The Review, “I think race is the wrong criteria to bring in professors. It undermines academic value.” 

Orzsik agreed, and said, “We want to ensure race and sexual orientation do not keep you out, but they shouldn’t get you in, either.”

Both Orzsik and Janjua felt that the protestors “could have been more respectful.”

The demonstrators, however, believe that their actions are absolutely necessary, and that change will occur only if they take drastic actions.

“Progress doesn’t really happen unless drastic action occurs and people are upsetting other people,” Will Jackson (’14), a supporter of the protest, said. “These things are absolutely necessary.” 

The report itself stresses the urgency of the demands. One excerpt, for instance, reads, “Departments that do not have womyn or people of color will be considered in crisis and must take urgent and immediate action to right the injustice.”

For the protestors, it is not sufficient for college department heads to prevent discrimination against people of color; they must also use color, race, and gender as hiring criteria.

While the demonstrators claim to advocate inclusivity, the Freedom Budget outlines highly specific reforms that appear to justify a very singular set of beliefs. Additionally, the proposed ideas do not seem to represent the majority of student opinion. The budget would impose both an ideology and a set of actions upon students, faculty, and administrators who have legitimate reasons to oppose such actions. A move like this hardly seems tolerant or inclusive of the ideas and perspectives of others.

Hanlon has stated that the college is bedeviled by student drinking, sexual assaults, and disregard for social norms. The rowdy, disrespectful manner in which the students have imposed their “Freedom Budget” is but one example of a ubiquitous college phenomenon. The disruptive behavior among Dartmouth students, Hanlon believes, has led to a 14 percent decrease in applications.

Perhaps another reason applications are down 14% is that the “Dartmouth has a problem” activists – the predecessors of the Concerned Students – scared them off.

Hanlon is confident, however, that his plan for reform will have a powerful effect on the community.

"Over the next six months, we are going to engage the whole community to identify the best ideas and vet them with experts and colleagues around the country before [Board of Trustees] approval," he told Inside Higher Ed. "We are energized by the response to [our] call to action."

It remains to be seen, however, whether this call to action will inspire the change that Hanlon hopes to encourage.

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