Dartmouth President on Rape Threats: Campus Is Like a 'Pressure Cooker'

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When asked to explain why Dartmouth had to cancel a full day of class this week after threats based on rape, race, and sexual orientation, the university's interim president accidentally likened the state of the Ivy League school to the Boston bombers' weapon of choice. Thing is, apologizing for her ill-timed euphemism might be the least of Carol Folt's problems.

Here's that unfortunate quote, from today's New Hampshire Union Leader:

Speaking to students, Folt likened the campus climate to a "pressure cooker very close to exploding."

It's not quite the CNN reporter who said, on air, that the eerie quiet of Boston in lockdown seemed "as if a bomb had gone off," but Folt probably could have gone with a different euphemism—even "kettle" is in the kitchen appliance category.

But let's not mince the words of Dartmouth's top administrator, even though they came on a retreat day meant for reconciliation, "community gathering," and calm words, not more provocation. Folt was addressing the school's decision to cancel Wednesday classes after students protested university officials' current stance toward sexual assault, racism, and homophobia on campus—or its lack of one. The left-leaning Think Progress has a good recap of Dartmouth's difficult history with race, which stretches way back to students. And in terms of sexual assault, which students have protesting loudly this year, Rolling Stone's Janet Reitman reported last March that there may be a serious case of under-reporting at Dartmouth:

Between 2008 and 2010, according to the college's official statistics, Dartmouth averaged about 15 reports of sexual assault each year among its 6,000 students. Brown, a school with 8,500 students, averaged eight assaults; Harvard, with 21,000 students, had 21. And those numbers are likely just a fraction of the actual count: One study showed that 95 percent of all sexual assaults among college students are never reported. In 2006, Dartmouth's Sexual Abuse Awareness Program estimated that there were actually 109 incidents on campus.

It appears that Dartmouth has more reported sexual assaults than expected for a school of its size and a severe case of under-reporting—a combination that suggests the school isn't an ideal place for victims (and alleged victims) to speak out. Here's what isn't helping: The past week saw an outpouring of animosity, especially on social media, aimed at students who protested the Dartmouth "problem" with sexual assaults, homophobia and racism. It all started getting really bad on April 19—a visiting day for prospective students. The blog Real Talk Dartmouth has a compilation of messages from campus discussion boards, Facebook, and Twitter:

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As hate speech piled on throughout the week, Folt and university officials canceled classes for a day, opting instead for "teach-ins" and a speech by a "social justice and diversity consultant." Folt is only serving as Dartmouth's president until June. But she won't be able to run away from this campus rape problem. You see, she's been elected as the next chancellor at the University of North Carolina in Chapel hill, where the university is currently the subject of a federal investigation into whether or not the school, among other things, told an alleged sexual assault victim that rape was like a "football game"—and told another that she was being "lazy" after she came forward about her attack. Hopefully Folt will have dropped the pressure cooker analogies by then. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.