In this series, Flyby Staff Writer Olivia M. Munk identifies, dissects, and discusses ideas, articles, and opinions found in popular media and popular culture. She's here to inform you and to make you think—about what's out there, what it means to us, and what it might mean for you.
WHAT IT IS
Liberal arts colleges may be known for being accepting environments, but that doesn't mean they are places of uniform thought and opinion—not everyone holds the same views. Recently, over a dozen student protesters interrupted a performance for prospective students at Dartmouth College to decry instances of homophobia, sexual assault, and racism on campus, chanting "Dartmouth has a problem!" Following the protest, hateful comments and threats of physical violence pertaining to the protesters were posted on anonymous message board site Bored at Baker (and were promptly taken down). This past Wednesday, the college's administration cancelled classes to promote an open dialogue addressing the incidents.
WHY IT CAUGHT OUR ATTENTION
This isn't the first time this school year that a college has cancelled classes in hopes of fostering honest discussion about incidents of what some see as on-campus discrimination and prejudice. In March, Oberlin suspended classes after a string of unsettling occurrences culminated in a sighting of someone attired in what resembled Ku Klux Klan apparel. With student bodies as diverse as the ones at Oberlin and Dartmouth, conflicting views and feelings are bound to arise in the face of incidents such as sexual assault and racism.
Harvard has recently had its own share of conflict. In December, a flyer that appeared to be a parody of final clubs was distributed around the College. Much to the dismay of many students and administrators, the flyer included such inflammatory statements as "Jews need not apply" and "Coloreds OK."
In the wake of this event, Pforzheimer House Masters Nicholas A. Christakis and Erika L. Christakis '86 responded with a piece in Time Magazine in which they urged Harvard to reconsider its response to the incident, noting that perhaps the creators of the flyers were attempting to make a statement about final club culture at Harvard through their shocking statements.
"The protection of free speech is meaningless," they wrote, "if what we really mean is 'free speech we find appropriate.'"
Campuses such as Harvard, Oberlin, and Dartmouth are not the first places that come to mind when one thinks of intolerant environments. However, the events of the past year, years before—and most likely, years to come—cannot be ignored. Do college campuses today still foster environments in which intolerance, hatred, and discrimination are possible? Or are the strong responses to these events enough to indicate that we are on the path to eradicating these incidents as completely as will ever be possible? Further, is it possible that the responses thus far have been too strong, perhaps limiting free speech on campus to a troubling degree?