AANHPIHM “Poster Boy” Is Accused Student Who Stands Up to Dartmouth

In case you missed the presidential memo, it’s Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

That’s right, A-A-N-H-P-I-H-M. Or, “AANHPIHM.”

Is that pronounced “An hippie hymn”?  You mean like Iron Butterfly’s “Innagaddadavida”? (Shout out to all you American Studies profs who recall the Summer of Love).

As an acronym, AANHPIHM does not sing, but President Joe Biden did approve the name in a proclamation with the new name just before May began, and so, it stands. Biden is not normally tone deaf on these matters, showing a real penchant for Irish poetry in his early presidential rhetoric. Maybe it was a long day.

Still, I honor AANHPIHM and am pleased to announce we have our higher ed “poster boy.”

It’s  Sirey Zhang who has declared his innocence on the front page of the Sunday New York Times this weekend.

Zhang is blasting away at the negative stereotype of the AANHPIHM person who lacks the courage and good sense to speak up. Zhang’s showing some guts standing up to the bullying of Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine.

Emil GuillermoEmil Guillermo

Zhang, 22, a Dartmouth College grad now  in his  first-year as a medical student, has been accused of cheating on an exam.

When you tell the world you didn’t lie and cheat on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, well that’s got to boost your credibility.

Donald Trump can’t do that. Zhang can.

Dartmouth’s evidence is reportedly the school’s online tracking of Zhang on Canvas, the campus digital learning platform. It suggests Zhang looked up course material during the closed book exam. An honor code violation?  Perhaps. But would you accuse someone of shoplifting if all you had was a picture of a person touching an item, and nothing more definitive that showed him pocketing an item without  paying?

Cooper Quintin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has evaluated the Dartmouth methodology, told the Times the charges are based on “the flimsiest technical evidence.”

So who do you believe? The student or the school?

I would tend to favor the kid, especially after Zhang said how the school’s student affairs office essentially coerced him into going along with Dartmouth’s assumptions of the truth. According to the Times article, it was implied to Zhang that it would be best “if he expressed remorse and pleaded guilty.”

You’re a first year med student. You are fearful for your future career. The school has you “over  a barrel,” as they say.

Of course, you’ll listen to your institution and do whatever the school wants including ceding your rights to the bullying voice of administrators. Because you trust the school. But that won’t get you justice.

According to the Times report, 7 of 17 accused cases have had their cases dismissed. Some “evidence” seems to have been created by automated processes in Canvas rather than by deliberate action by the user.

But 10 other students have been either suspended or expelled. Zhang was one of nine who pleaded guilty. He’s one of a few who have appealed.

It does sound vaguely like every other time schools try to take intricate matters into their own hands—for example in matters of sexual harassment.

The reports say accused students often weren’t equip to defend themselves, had less than 48 hours to respond to charges, weren’t provided key evidence– data logs for the exams—to evaluate.

It’s worse than a kangaroo court when the school is judge, jury and executioner.

But students are running scared and not speaking out for fear of retaliation from Dartmouth.

Only Zhang spoke to the Times because he felt traumatized.

“I’m terrified,” he said. “But if me speaking up means that there’s at least one student in the future who doesn’t have to feel the way I did, then it’s all worthwhile.”

There are other issues at play here. Like how a school invades privacy to track students online during a pandemic. That’s a concern.  But I’m more concerned about how a school uses info to maybe accused students unjustly. That’s when you see how ugly a school administration can be at heart.

Let’s face it, schools can’t be trusted to mete out justice when their own self interest is on the line.

Someone has to speak out for the students.

At Dartmouth, right now, it’s a lone AANHPI student standing up for the truth.

Emil Guillermo is a journalist and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @Emilamok