Last week there was a dust-up at Dartmouth College. During accepted students’ day, the Ivy with the biggest inferiority complex had its “Dimensions Welcome Show” disrupted by a group of current students whose urgent message required that their voices be heard. Explains one of the messengers:
Attempting to engage in a real conversation about the multi-faceted nature of the Dartmouth experience, a group of current Dartmouth students reached out to the prospective students on Wednesday and Thursday prior to Dimensions. Our efforts in reaching out to you were boycotted during the Dimensions weekend, however. We were well aware that attempts to speak truth on campus are controversial and often socially punished, but we did not expect to be systematically silenced.
We were forced to seek alternative means of speaking truth about issues of structural oppression and anonymous bullying at Dartmouth. The problems that are certainly not unique to Dartmouth have so far not been addressed adequately by the Dartmouth administration, and continue to be ignored and overlooked by the student body. Incidents of racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and ableism have been marked by inaction. Similarly, none of these issues were given space during the official programming of the Dimensions weekend.
In the magical thinking that goes on in the heads of oppressed Ivy League students, “anonymous bullying” is a bad thing, whereas public bullying of the kind in which a handful of malcontents disrupt a performance rehearsed and acted by their fellow students and watched by an audience of interested, invited guests is OK. Because, you know, important issues need space.
What followed is pretty much what you’d expect. “Anonymous bullying” ensued in the form of posts to Facebook and other online fora telling the messengers where they could stick their oppression, or words to that effect. Dartmouth’s response? Shut down the campus for a day of
alternative programming designed to bring students, faculty, and staff together to discuss Dartmouth’s commitment to fostering debate that promotes respect for individuals, civil and engaged discourse, and the value of diverse opinions.
Dartmouth’s reasoning for what it calls “[t]his unusual action”? Just what you’d think: it was “prompted by a series of threatening and abusive online posts used to target particular students in the wake of the protest that disrupted the Dimensions Welcome Show on Friday evening.” In other words, the students who were, in their undoubtedly loutish way, sticking up for Dartmouth, free speech, and an audience of innocents were the students who found themselves in hot water. Not the messengers of oppression, though.
Right about now you’re probably shaking your head, thinking you have read this all before. And, of course, you have: right here at Call Me “Miss!” Colleges have a funny way of copying each other.
What’s new and different in Hanover is the choice of a “keynote speaker,” one Jessica Pettitt, a chubby white woman whose website modestly makes mention that Jessica has been “[n]ominated for three years by Campus Activities Magazine for Best Diversity Artist, and Hot Pick for 2011.”
Hot Pick Pettitt’s website also invites visitors “read a few of her published articles.” So I did.
I began with “Showing Up White,” her think-piece in November 2007 newsletter of the Commission for Social Justice Educators. In this article Ms. Pettitt confronts her very own heart of darkness. “I came to realize,” she writes
that as a White [sic] person doing social justice work, even one with a firm understanding of the issues, I show up in an oppressive way as a result of my racial privilege.
Hot Pick says this revelation “rocked” her world, and she was moved to undertake extraordinary measures to confront her whiteness:
I decided to develop a list, bulleted preferred, of ways that White [sic] social justice trainers show up White[sic], while working.”
I was immediately taken by her seriousness of purpose, evidenced by the telling detail that hers was to be not just any list, but a bulleted one.
Here are a few of Ms. Pettitt’s bullet points that reveal the stain of her whiteness:
It is important to me to start and/or end “on time” and to stay“true” to the agenda. I focus on tasks, outcomes, or objectives, over emotions or relationships. I don’t feel the need to share resources, food, supplies, etc., with others.
Diversity trainers are big on “take-aways.” Here are mine, in a bulleted list:
Ms. Pettitt believes it is OK for minority trainers of diversity to be late, ignore schedules, and wander from the agenda they were contracted and paid to present. Ms. Pettitt believes it is OK for minorities to replace “tasks, outcomes, or objectives” with “emotions or relationships.” Ms. Pettitt is stingy.
What would I hope that your, dear readers, “take-away” from this post will be? Just this: when the best the experts can do to promote civil discourse is to encourage white students assume everything they know about good behavior (giving your audience courtesy and respect for their time by showing up when you are supposed to; producing the materials you were paid to produce; being generous when the situation occasions it) is in fact merely a display of white power, do not expect those students, or the minority students who sit side-by-side with them in rarified atmosphere of a Dartmouth (or an Oberlin or a Wellesley), to learn word one about what constitutes civility.
I have long thought that the very best orientation to college, work, or civic life would be to hand the newbies a copy of Emily Post to read, discuss, and most of all emulate. Better yet, have them–all of them–memorize the Golden Rule. It really is that simple. No bullet point required.