Students at Dartmouth College have filed a federal complaint alleging that the school charged them with violating the student code of conduct for staging a protest against sexual assault.
“At least two thirds of the protesters have now received disciplinary letters, and it seems random – some people who were featured prominently in the protest didn’t, and others did,” Karenina Rojas, one of the protesters and a college senior, told ThinkProgress.
On April 19, a group of sexual violence prevention activists held a rally in which they accused the school of underreporting cases of sexual assault, racism and homophobia. A student group called Real Talk Dartmouth interrupted an event called Dimensions, which is held annually to attract prospective students. One student was carrying a sign that stated, “I Was Called A ‘Fag’ In My Freshman Dorm”.
“We were protesting sexual assault on this campus, and the administration’s failure to respond to homophobia and racism on campus,” Nastassja Schmiedt, a sophomore at Dartmouth, told The Huffington Post. “We were informally informing the college of civil rights violations.”
School officials tried to prevent the protesters from entering the area where the event was held, but the students violated the orders and disrupted it anyway, giving prospective students a glimpse of sexual assault and homophobia on campus.
Some of the protesters subsequently received rape and death threats from other students. When these threats were reported to the school, Dartmouth College officials said that the ‘public disruption’ caused by the protesters was equally as serious as the rape threats they received thereafter.
“I don’t understand it at all because not following directions seems like something incredibly benign,” Rojas told the campus newspaper, The Dartmouth.
This week, at least 10 students who were involved in the protest received letters informing them that they may have violated the school’s code of conduct for their refusal to follow college officials’ instructions to avoid the 1953 Commons, the dining hall where the event for prospective students was held.
A group of students, seven of which received letters from the administration’s Judicial Affairs Office, have now filed a federal Clery Act complaint against Dartmouth, claiming that the school is retaliating against them. The complaint, which has been sent to the US Department of Education, includes testimonies from more than 30 students and alumni, which claim that the administration is creating a hostile environment by failing to address cases of sexual assault, racism and homophobia.
“Dartmouth is a business, and it runs like a business selling its prestige,” Anna Winham, a college junior, told the campus newspaper. “Its prestige can be threatened by lawsuits against it such as the Clery Act complaint against it. It’s a way to force Dartmouth’s hand and make it change.”
Rojas told ThinkProgress that the administration’s actions against the protesters are more drastic than previous responses to student uprisings.
“I was a member of Occupy Dartmouth, and we occupied the student center for months… We definitely failed to comply with directions, and we were never disciplined like this,” Rojas said, adding that the United Students Against Sweatshops group was never drastically punished either.
In the end, the sophomore said she wants Dartmouth to address the issue of sexual assault in the same way that it is addressing the issue of violating school officials’ orders to avoid disrupting an event.
“If we broke a rule, we should be punished – but we ask the administration to also punish serial rapists,” Rojas said. “The fact is that Dartmouth is punishing protesters who are very visible, but won’t punish students who commit assaults.”