After six months of gathering comments from the community, experts, and peer institutions on how to combat extreme behaviors at Dartmouth, the Presidential Steering Committee for Moving Dartmouth Forward continues to provide updates on its process. The committee recently issued a letter on its findings on high-risk drinking, the first in a series of three on the issues within its charge. Professor Barbara Will, chair of the Moving Dartmouth Forward committee, says the intent of the letters is to update the community on the scope of ideas encountered during the fact-finding period that will inform the recommendations the committee delivers to President Phil Hanlon ’77 in January. Will, the A. and R. Newbury Professor of English, recently answered questions about the committee’s work.
Dartmouth Now: The committee was charged with gathering information and formulating recommendations for President Hanlon to end high-risk and harmful behavior in three critical areas: sexual assault, high-risk drinking, and lack of inclusion. Where are you in this process?Will: We’ve spent the last half year reading, consulting with experts, visiting other institutions, and getting feedback from as many Dartmouth constituents as possible. We’ve learned a lot, and while we’re not at the stage of finalizing our recommendations, we do feel it’s important to share with the community what we’ve learned about high-risk drinking, sexual assault, and lack of inclusivity and the ways other institutions are attempting to cope with these problems.
How much input has the community had since you began this work?We’ve received many, many communications and suggestions about how best to reduce sexual assault and binge drinking, and improve inclusivity on our campus. To date we’ve met with more than 45 student groups, had 53 meetings or conference calls with alumni, and received more than 2,000 emails from throughout the community. This input has been crucial to the committee’s work and will inform the final recommendations we present to President Hanlon in January.
Read more:The committee is in the process of issuing three letters, one for each of the high-risk behaviors you are examining. What is your goal in writing these letters?The goal of our letters is to update the community on what we’ve found about the behaviors we were asked to tackle. A message in our letters is that the community needs to remember that many of these behaviors come from social norms. In the last few years the norm has developed toward risky and unsafe practices; this needs to end. But a new norm will come into place that will, we hope, be much safer and healthier.
As the committee moves toward drafting recommendations for President Hanlon, is community input still being received? We’re still interested in getting feedback from community members about their sense of the problems and possible solutions. We continue to meet with members of the Dartmouth community and to receive online feedback. It’s not too late to meet with us and talk with us—the more conversations we have, the more we engage with people who really care about young people and responsible behavior, the better and safer our campus will be. What we do know at this point is that many campuses are struggling with these problems and that there is truly no magic bullet that will solve it all, however much people may wish there were. What will work is a clear articulation of standards, a sense of responsibility and accountability among all members of the community, and an understanding that there needs to be a cultural shift in the way students think about their expectations for fun outside of the classroom.