Peter Hackett ’75

The following letter was first published in The Dartmouth Radical on November 12, 2012.

A Legacy of Neglect

“The minute you think as an administrator that by fiat you can institute culture change, the only thing you’ll get is mocking and ridicule and at that point it will be well deserved.” Jim Kim, Boston Globe, March 2, 2012

A disturbing legacy of the Jim Kim presidency is a sexual assault policy carefully crafted to support the notion that the President of the College is powerless to address the ongoing epidemic of violence against women at Dartmouth. Although this position may protect the College from any anticipated “fall-out” from their constituents, it places the former President squarely with other “bystanders” who are reluctant to intervene when they see their peers engaged in dangerous or abusive behavior.

Let me be clear: there are dozens of extremely dedicated and skilled administrators, students, staff, faculty and community members who are working heroically to prevent these crimes and to provide meaningful support to victims.

However, the biggest obstacle these advocates face is a campus culture of “non-interference” that plays out in Greek houses, dormitories, and locker rooms every day and is perpetuated by some members of the current administration. How else to explain, for example, a virtual blackout on all meaningful discussion of revising the Greek system, even though research tells us that in “group-think mentality,” individuals commit acts they would not normally consider? You can’t say you’re committed to changing the culture at Dartmouth on the one hand while taking the Greek system off the table with the other.

Jim Kim based his approach to the problem of sexual assault on two erroneous assumptions:

1. Sexual Assault is an unfortunate by-product of binge drinking. Although alcohol is involved in virtually 100% of sexual assault cases at Dartmouth, there is no causal connection between alcohol abuse and sexual assault: “A common misunderstanding is that if people commit sexual assaults only when drunk, then (a) the drinking must have caused the assault and (b) sobriety and alcohol counseling are adequate to prevent future assaults. These erroneous conclusions confuse correlation and causation.” These erroneous conclusions confuse correlation and causation.” Alcohol and Sexual Assault: The Connection by Scott Hampton, Psy.D.

By linking alcohol abuse (a disease) to sexual assault (a crime), one is able simply ignore the disconcerting fact that alcohol is actually the nation’s number one assault-facilitating drug. Although difficult to admit, this suggests that “premeditation” is often a part of campus sexual crimes. These crimes are not, as many would like to think, the result of “good- hearted college kids just having a few too many beers”, nor are they, as Jim Kim offered in a meeting with the Theater Faculty in 2011, “an unfortunate reality of 21st century campus life.” Only mandatory ongoing sexual assault awareness training for all students can begin to address these dangerous misconceptions.

2. Any change in the campus culture can only come from the students. This disturbing assertion suggests that victims, the overwhelming majority of whom are undergraduate women, are somehow complicit in their own assaults and therefore must change their behavior and their perpetrators’ to avoid being assaulted again. A victim of sexual assault is never responsible under any circumstances for the crime that is committed against them.

The former President’s disingenuous statement also runs counter to recommendations by many experts in the field. A recent letter from the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights clearly states that sexual assault can only be diminished if the entire campus community is involved: “Compliance with Title IX, such as…education and training programs…can help ensure that all students and employees recognize the nature of sexual harassment and violence and to understand that the school will not tolerate such conduct. Training for administrators, teachers, staff, and students also can help ensure that they understand what types of conduct constitute sexual harassment or violence, can identify warning signals that may need attention, and know how to respond.”

Using FBI and Department of Education statistics, it is estimated that 124 Dartmouth women will be victims of sexual assaults or attempted assaults in the coming year. It is absolutely imperative that the Trustees appoint a new President who will have the courage to intervene in this crisis, no matter the anticipated consequences. It is time to dispel the myths and start telling the truth about sexual assault at Dartmouth College.

Peter Hackett ‘75
Avalon Professor of the Humanities
Professor of Theater