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Carol Folt’s Dishonest Facts

In her speech today in front of Dartmouth Hall, Carol Folt summarized the events that led to the College’s shutdown:

Today is much more than about a specific protest. If it was just a specific event we would not have taken this step. We would and will, as we always do, privately follow our processes and policies, and we will, as we always do, privately follow our processes and policies pertaining to individuals responsible for the hate speech. We will not try this in the court of public opinion.

Today is about opening the door to conversations about civil debate, about respect, and how we can care for each other across difference. There was real sadness felt by the students performing in the [Dimensions] show, and by people who worked hard to create a memorable weekend filled with affection for Dartmouth, and by many members of the community who disagree with the nature and the timing of the protest.

Folt Dartmoutht Hall.jpg

These are not the people posting the on-line vile [sic] and vitriol. The students in the show calmly left the stage and returned after a couple minutes to great applause. Many of them said that even as they disagreed with the methods, they respected the right of their peers to dissent. Their maturity and sense of civility can be a model of civility to all of us.

Today is really much more about what happened after the protest: those terrible posts, the hate speech, the violence, or threats of violence raise the stakes and open terrible new wounds that made it imperative for us to come together with conviction.

Sadly these types of issues have been going on for a long time here at Dartmouth and across the country. Faculty members this morning talked about painful conversations that they’ve been having with their students about alienation going back years, about hateful language anonymously carved into the benches in library meeting rooms years ago, cyber-bullying, terrorizing, no accountability, taking sadistic delight in hurting people, people that you may even know, people certainly your friends know and like, these are people in your classes, on your teams, they live in your dorms. It is incomprehensible to me, it is incomprehensible to most of us. Moreover, as we all know, these threats to one are threats to all of us.

So what do we hope for today? We hope that we are opening a door to these conversations about respect, how we can care about each other across difference, not just today, not just this week, but for all time. It’s a time to talk about all underlying issues of campus climate, sexual assault, violence, discrimination, homophobia, intolerance, social divisiveness. But it’s a time to take this moment and turn it into a beautiful start for renewed collaboration and communication…

How to understand these words? Perhaps we can start with a story yesterday on Yahoo News. A U.S. Department of Education press release announced that Dartmouth ranked 23rd nationally in a study entitled “25 Private Colleges with the Happiest Freshmen”: 96.5% of Dartmouth freshman said that they were happy at the College. Princeton ranked first with 99.2% of freshmen professing happiness.

Yet according to Carol Folt, Dartmouth is rife with “on-line vile [sic] and vitriol… terrible posts, the hate speech, the violence, or threats of violence… terrible new wounds… alienation… hateful language anonymously carved into the benches in library meeting rooms years ago, cyber-bullying, terrorizing, no accountability, taking sadistic delight in hurting people… sexual assault, violence, discrimination, homophobia, intolerance, social divisiveness.” She says that “these types of issues have been going on for a long time here at Dartmouth…

You read words like this and you halfways expect the Co-op to start selling T-shirts that say Concentration Camp Dartmouth. But what is the truth?

First off, anyone with experience at the College knows that Dartmouth students are endlessly positive, friendly, supportive, and that they try very hard to do the right thing. That’s a fair description of at least, say, 96.5% of undergrads. And we also know that the angry, aggrieved RealTalk students are but a small minority of students. They do have, mind you, a good argument that Dartmouth is far from perfect and that it has serious issues to work on, but their relentless focus on the negative obscures a fair, overall evaluation of the institution. Finally, as this space has documented, the B@B site is an isolated, poorly attended chat area; the number of chest-thumping fools who anonymously wrote hateful things there over the past couple of days can be counted on one or, at most, two hands.

The thing is, Carol Folt also knows these things, but what better, self-aggrandizing move than to set herself up as the protector of the poor and the oppressed — even while tarring the school and its students with a dirty, dirty brush, one that will hurt its reputation for many years to come.

That’s not her only intellectually dishonest move. She describes the performers in the Dimensions show in this way, “Many of them said that even as they disagreed with the methods, they respected the right of their peers to dissent.” How nice. Of course, people are allowed to dissent. That’s the basis of Dartmouth, and the whole country, for that matter. But for the Dimensions kids who cried at the interruption to their carefully prepared performance, who were shocked at the anger that the self-indulgent protesters displayed to prospies, well, Carol’s words of whitewash do not do justice to them. To test that proposition, put on a show yourself that illustrates something that you love very much, and have it invaded by uninvited screamers.

Folt’s more serious sleight of hand, the one that tips us to her skewed politics, is her comment that the College will “privately follow our processes and policies.” She seems to nod to the fact that the protesters will be somehow sanctioned, just as the anonymous writers on Bored @Baker will be. Her allusion to privacy seems to be an attempt to justify not criticizing the RealTalk protesters in her speech. Nonsense. This is where she should have shown honest evenhandedness. It is fair to criticize hate speech, as she forcefully did — the way to respond to speech is with more speech — but she should also have taken the time to point out that invasive, illegal demonstrations were an impediment to the Dimension’s crew’s own right to speech, a right guaranteed by the College’s own regulations and the laws of the State of New Hampshire. She did not do that.

Carol Folt has used this entire situation to her own advantage, and in doing so, she willfully distorted the truth. But as a great many members of this community know, Carol Folt and the truth only have a passing relationship, particularly when twisting and inventing facts will help her advance her own ambition. She should be ashamed of herself, as are so many people today in Hanover.

Dartmouth Hall Protest.jpg

Addendum: The Baker Tower Irregulars assure me that in signing up for posting privileges on Bored@Baker, the site confirms that it keeps no details of posters’ identities. Even if the College attempted by subpoena to secure the names of posters, which no judge would allow, there is nothing to be found at the site to lead investigators to the identities of the posters of hateful, bombastic speech. There will be no College prosecutions.

As a coda to that comment, hateful speech on B@B is most often immediately reproached by other posters. The RealTalk folks did not quote their excerpts in context. Anonymity goes both ways. People on B@B are free to be stupid and aggressive, but others are equally free to criticize them.

Addendum: The D reported that its poll showed 67% of students disagreed with the College’s decision to shut down for the day. It’s story quoted two students with pertinent, commonsensical remarks:

Roger Lott ‘14, one of many who criticized the College’s response, publicly denounced the cancellation of classes at Dartmouth Hall on Wednesday, wearing a sign with the words “Dartmouth is a safe place, Stop scaring prospies. I paid for class. Where is it?”

“I personally have many hundreds of Bored at Baker posts that are abusive towards me,” he said. “I never take any of those threats seriously.”

Blake Neff ‘13 said he was skeptical of the nature of the threats protesters had received.

“I don’t endorse threats, and I don’t believe they should be threatened, but the simple reality is that so far, like in their letter to the administration, is that it was offensive comments made on an anonymous internet forum,” he said. “If we’re going to shut down the entire College every time someone says something like that, then we could never open the College.”

These young men could never be administrators in an institution of higher learning.

Addendum: The Chatham News in North Carolina has reprinted this post in its entirety.

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