What We Have Learned: An Overview

As we move into an energetic fall term on campus, the Moving Dartmouth Forward committee is compiling all of its feedback, data, best practices, and long-term goals to think realistically about what will best help Dartmouth to end harmful and extreme behavior on campus. Thanks to the community’s involvement, we have no shortage of smart, thoughtful, and creative ideas to consider, as well as short- and long-term plans to envision. We will be spending the next few weeks working through viable possibilities, testing the waters with focus groups, and continuing to encourage students to take their own initiatives to create a safer, more inclusive campus. In this space, we hope to share with you some of the key ideas we’ve been hearing about, as well as the principles that are currently guiding our thinking as we move toward our final recommendations in January.

All experts agree that a healthy and safe environment for college students can be fostered through clear and firm expectations on the part of administrators and faculty. Some institutions require that students sign a code of conduct on matriculation; others institute leadership training programs that focus on behavior as a continuum from inside to outside of the classroom. Rigorous faculty expectations and attention to grade inflation also appear to moderate student behavior, especially when it concerns high-risk drinking. In general, the colleges that report fewer problems with harmful behavior are ones that have high academic and personal standards, transparent rules, and clear and universal sanctions for violations.

Regarding campus sexual violence, experts suggest that cross-community training is one of the key ways to mitigate this problem. The military academies, which came under intense scrutiny some years ago for their handling of sexual assault, are now considered leaders in tackling this problem. Part of their effectiveness has been credited to a sustained curriculum involving all sectors of the community. Best practices at other colleges suggest that teaching a nuanced but clear idea of sexual “consent” can be valuable and also foster an environment where such violence is perceived as more visibly egregious.

Creating a community of inclusivity and diversity requires a sustained, deliberate, and intentional effort. We have spoken with many people about the optimal ways to nurture a campus environment where more students can honestly say they feel that they fully belong, and where inclusion does not come at the price of excluding others. A robust residential house system has worked well on other campuses in fostering meaningful intellectual exchange, critical thinking skills, as well as the formation of long-lasting community across a diverse group of people. Developing social spaces that encourage encounters with students who are unlike one another is the aspiration of every peer institution we have examined. And immediate, strong repercussions for any incident that targets individuals or groups is considered imperative if a university is to model its principle of community.

In the next few weeks, we will be discussing the core principles our committee considers integral to its charge. We encourage you to follow us as we work to make Dartmouth a better place.