The president of Dartmouth College has apologized for a string of incidents this fall that many American Indian students viewed as racist.
In an e-mail sent to students, president James Wright urged students to do more to make the university a welcoming and respectful place.
“They are members of this community … they are your classmates and your friends,” Wright wrote of the American Indian students. “And they deserve more and better than to be abstracted as symbols and playthings.”
The American Indian Council, a group made up of faculty, staff and a few students, took out an advertisement in the student newspaper describing a troubling series of events.
According to the ad, fraternity pledges disrupted an American Indian drumming circle on Columbus Day, and earlier this month, the crew team held a “Cowboys and Indians” theme party. Team captains later apologized.
Though the school discontinued its unofficial American Indian mascot in the 1970s, some students and alumni have continued to use it. The Dartmouth Review, a conservative, independent student newspaper, gave incoming freshmen T-shirts featuring the symbol. And at Homecoming, at least one Dartmouth student sold shirts depicting a rival school’s mascot performing a sex act on a “Dartmouth Indian,” the university said.
The ad also expressed concern about a dining hall mural painted in the 1930s depicting the school’s founding. It shows one American Indian holding a book upside down and another lapping rum from the ground. The mural, which has been covered for years and is to be removed during renovations, will be preserved at the school’s art museum.
“I really feel like the college does not care enough about Native students,” says Samuel Kohn, a sophomore who is from Montana and a member of the Crow tribe. He praised Wright’s letter and his decision to meet with American Indian students last week, but says the comments were long overdue and didn’t go far enough.
Dartmouth’s 1796 charter describes the school’s mission as educating “Youth of the Indian Tribes in this Land … and also of English Youth and any others.” But only 19 American Indians graduated from the college over the next 200 years.
In 1970, Dartmouth renewed that mission and began recruiting American Indian students. There now are about 150 American Indian students, making up 3 percent of the student body.
The school has an office dedicated to working with American Indian students, and offers an American Indian studies program. Wright says he is considering other ways to address the problems, such as speaking in greater depth at freshman orientation about the school’s history with American Indians.
— Associated Press
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