American college campuses are supposed to be bastions of free speech that encourage the collision of ideas and tolerate peaceful protests about the issue du jour. Certainly my school, Dartmouth College, professes to uphold this ideal of frank dialogue and heartfelt, non-violent protest.
However, all that was literally run over a couple weeks ago when an “Occupy Dartmouth” supporter ran over a stream of American flags with his Toyota Camry. The flags were part of a pro-life memoriam, “Cemetery of the Innocents.” Vita Clamantis, Dartmouth’s pro-life student group, had assembled the memoriam on a campus lawn after obtaining permission from administrators. Members of the group were stunned to watch the Camry, which was sporting a “coexist” bumper sticker, careen through their protest and continue down the street. Shortly after, campus security and the Hanover police arrived to investigate the scene and ensure that everyone was safe. (The Dartmouth Review has a slideshow with pictures of the protest and its aftermath here.)
Fortunately, no one was injured, but the backlash from individual members of the student body and the complacency of the administration regarding Vita’s 546-flag display, which represented the 54.6 million American lives lost to abortion since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, epitomize the double standard that prevails at elite colleges like Dartmouth: protests are only acceptable if the cause the protesters support is a liberal one.
A series of incidences led up to the Camry running over the flags: someone staked a sign that said “May the child you save be GAY” (emphasis in original form) near the memoriam; vandals stole American flags and posters; and pro-choice advocates assembled white flags across the street in a counter-demonstration that wasn’t cleared with the school — though the administration approved it within hours, far faster than it had approved the pro-life memoriam. Sophomore Robert Smith, the president of Vita, welcomed the pro-choice group, saying they might “help further discussion and get a dialogue going.”
The general response from undergraduates and the administration was upsetting. The Dartmouth, the campus daily newspaper, provided a factual account of the day, but barely mentioned the extent of the vandalism. The paper did, however, publish an op-ed by Andrea Jaresova titled “Unproductive Discourse,” in which the senior expressed “shock” and “dismay,” claiming that the American flags “denote the idea that the abortions, and consequently the women who had them, were un-American.” She further called the silent protest “hurtful,” “alienating” and “extremely ineffective in fostering what could have been a thoughtful conversation,” even though Vita members stood with their display periodically throughout the day and scheduled a free pizza dinner to discuss the topic at the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and Social Science, across the street from the memoriam.
The pizza dinner was held that night, as planned. Mr. Smith felt it was productive since, after Vita apologized for being “offensive,” people of conflicting views agreed that nobody likes abortion, and moreover, that there should be more resources available to pregnant women on college campuses. It took a day of chaos leading up to the discussion, which was attended by about 50 undergraduates and moderated by a political science professor, to reach this conclusion. Despite the pandemonium, Mr. Smith called the event a “success” since it spurred conversation.
Toward the end of her op-ed, Ms. Jaresova compared Vita to Occupy Dartmouth, a group with a menagerie of gripes that has been assembling in a tent in front of the student center — for the most part, without a permit. She lauded the Occupy Dartmouth demonstrators for being active at the site of their protest at all times.
At Dartmouth and many other colleges, it is acceptable for an anarchic group like Occupy Dartmouth to form, but chaos erupts when a group like Vita goes through the proper channels to put together a respectful memoriam for the 54.6 million lives lost to abortion and organize a civil discussion about an important political and moral issue.
Melanie E. Wilcox is a junior at Dartmouth studying political science and public policy. She is a contributor to The Dartmouth Review, a conservative, independent, bi-weekly newspaper at Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH.