Dartmouth cancels classes after student protest, online threats

MGN
Thursday, April 25, 2013 - 8:05am

Dartmouth College canceled classes Wednesday after a student protest sparked a threatening backlash on a campus online forum, according to a college spokesman.

On Friday, current Dartmouth students interrupted a welcome show for recently admitted students by chanting about aspects of student life they found troubling, such as issues around homophobia and sexual assault on campus. The welcome show was designed to highlight why the prospective students should attend Dartmouth, college spokesman Justin Anderson said.

The decision to cancel classes was prompted by a series of threatening and abusive online posts that targeted the students who protested at the welcome show, a letter sent to Dartmouth students and faculty said.

The online postings appeared on BoredAtBaker.com, a Dartmouth-exclusive forum where students post about happenings on campus, according to student Dani Valdes, 22. The website has since been shut down.

Comments on the website included derogatory, homophobic, racist, and sexist remarks directed at the student protesters. Threats of violence and sexual assault also appeared. Although student protesters expected campus-wide reaction, they say were not anticipating the level of hostility they experienced.

"I think that all of us knew what we were getting ourselves into when we decided to protest this, but I don't think any of us expected to receive such extreme threats of death and rape and lynching," said Nastassja Schmiedt, 20.

College administrators announced that classes would be replaced by "alternative programming" for the college community "to discuss Dartmouth's commitment to fostering debate that promotes respect for individuals, civil and engaged discourse, and the value of diverse opinions."

"We feel it is necessary for the community as a whole to have the opportunity to learn about all that has transpired and to discuss further action that will help us live up to our mission," the letter stated.

The alternative programming included a large meeting of faculty, a discussion facilitated by a social justice and diversity consultant, a community gathering, lunch and smaller 'teach-in' discussions led by Dartmouth faculty and staff.

However, student protesters are unsatisfied with the administration's reaction to recent events.

"We've made petitions and nothing has changed. Our previous efforts have really fallen on deaf ears. They haven't reached out to us and they haven't taken a stance on the protest," Schmiedt said.

Dartmouth President Carol Folt did not immediately respond to CNN's requests for comment.

However, college administrators told students that the decision to hold alternative programming in lieu of classes was not made lightly.

"Together, we will make this day an important step toward realizing a better Dartmouth," the letter said.

According to Anderson, none of the students who disrupted the event or posted online are being sought by law enforcement.

In March, administrators at Oberlin College canceled classes after a student reported seeing a person resembling a Ku Klux Klan member on campus. The incident followed a string of hate-related events that month.

-- CNN's Chuck Johnston contributed to this report.

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