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April 24. 2013 9:58PM

Dartmouth defends decision to cancel classes


About 1,500 people gathered in front of Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College Wednesday afternoon to hear college officials talk. Classes were canceled for the day because of online threats made toward some students. (MEGHAN PIERCE/Union Leader Correspondent)

HANOVER - Dartmouth College canceled classes Wednesday after school officials said racial and sexual orientation-based threats were made in a Dartmouth online chatroom.

The threats, which targeted students' sexual orientation and race, followed a Friday protest of about a dozen students who showed up at the Dimensions Welcome Show for incoming students to highlight what they say are underreported sexual assaults and racial incidents.

Interim President Carol Folt defended the decision to cancel classes while speaking to about 1,500 people in front of Dartmouth Hall Wednesday afternoon.

Instead of classes the students were asked to attend discussions and "teach-ins" to address the issue instead.

Speaking to students, Folt likened the campus climate to a "pressure cooker very close to exploding."

"We believe we have reached a tipping point," she said. "What began as a protest at a cherished student-run event has become a nightmare for many, many students. ... We believe the well-being of our students, our community, is at risk .... And we believe that whether you agree with our decision or not you would join together in a day of reflection, of kindness, and an affirmation of our humanity as a community."

The comments in the online chatroom for Dartmouth students and alumni only threatened violence against the students who protested the campus climate, sexual assaults, violence, discrimination, homophobia, intolerance and social divisiveness, she said.

Folt said the college was pursuing those who made the comments and would follow its internal policies and procedures privately to deal with it.

"We will not try this in the court of public opinion," Folt said.

"It's time to take this moment and turn it into a beautiful start for renewed collaboration and communication," she said. "We are going to take these issues that face the nation and hold ourselves to a higher standard."

"Today we take a time out. We take a day to reflect on what it means to be a community," said Charlotte Johnson, dean of the college. "This is our Dartmouth. This is your Dartmouth. And at Dartmouth there is no place for violence. There is no place for racism. There is no place for homophobia. There is no place for hate."

Bruce Sacerdote, Dartmouth economics professor, also addressed the large crowd of students, saying he didn't know about the threats until he was asked to attend a faculty meeting Tuesday night to discuss them. Faculty at that meeting made the decision to cancel Wednesday classes.

Sacerdote said he was shocked by the threats.

"Not just generic statements, but threats aimed at specific students," he said.

He quoted one of the threats: "Everyone loves Dartmouth and nobody who doesn't should be executed."

"I was floored," he said.

He also said the students who had been performing at the Dimensions Show have met with the social justice protesters and the two groups have expressed respect for each other.

"These are not the people posting the violent vitriol," he said of the performers.

"Today is really about what happened after the protest," he said. "Sadly these issues have been going on for a long time at Dartmouth and across the country."

Students also addressed the crowd. Senior Duncan Hall of New Zealand, 22, said he came to Dartmouth in the fall of 2009.

"I was excited. I was nervous. I came hiding a secret," Hall said.

Because of the respect shown to him by his new friends at Dartmouth, he was able to "come out" in his freshman year he said, freeing "himself from a weight that had been bringing him down for years."

"Their respect saved me from a minute longer of pain and depression," Hall said. "Dartmouth are we a place where that respect has faded?"

He called on students to return to respect and to be more conscious of their behavior, words and attitudes.

During the rally some students held up signs protesting the cancelation of classes.

Sign holder Dartmouth sophomore Jon Miller said he has friends who write for the college newspaper who receive threats and hateful messages online all the time for their printed opinions, but classes are not canceled.

"The threats online I think were atrocious," he said.

Miller, though, said he was also offended by the small protest at the event on Friday because the students had "forcibly" entered and disrupted a show for incoming students.

mpiece@newstote.com


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