by Ted Gehring
Dartmouth Political Times recently sat down with Monik Walters, outgoing president of Dartmouth’s Student Assembly.
We asked Walters to start by describing the purpose of Student Assembly. According to her, she views Student Assembly’s job as one-part amplification of student voices and concerns, and one-part a way to achieve the vision of the elected representatives. More than a simple relay, she discussed how she could use her knowledge and contact with the administration to help solve student concerns.
She categorized the challenges facing Dartmouth students into three categories. She named mental health challenges as a significant concern, given due to the way Dartmouth’s highly chaotic and dynamic environment from term to term tends to impede healthy lifestyles. Secondly, she discussed people that were feeling ignored — whether by other students, professors, administration or staff — and need the help of Student Assembly to bring their problems to the attention of decision makers. Finally, she mentioned issues of “staying afloat” at Dartmouth: helping navigate grade-dispute procedures, off-term funding and similar guidance issues.
Discussing the feelings of marginalized students brought up the ongoing sexual assault scandal in the Psychology and Brain Sciences department. When asked whether the administration’s response to the scandal had been sufficient, Walters answered in the negative, describing it as “lackluster.” According to her, the school not only lied, as alleged in the lawsuit, but also then responded in an “antagonistic” way towards alleged victims.
Walters said “there needs to be more … outside the legal procedure” to ensure that survivors are properly supported regardless of the surrounding proceedings.
“If someone is a survivor, that inherently means something happened to them,” she said, citing statistics on low rates of false accusations of sexual violence.
However, Walters also cautioned against demonizing the accused, arguing that supporting survivors does not necessitate immediately condemning the alleged perpetrators of sexual violence.
Walters acknowledged that the administration was making a valid reaction to a legal challenge, but argued that they needed to pursue a second, more intimate track with students to hear critique from the community in order to ameliorate the perceived harms. E-mails, she said, were impersonal and insufficient. According to Walters, administrators need to engage with Dartmouth students in a more personal way in to try to fix the harms caused by the scandal.
When asked about the Student Assembly’s work to move the needle on sexual violence prevention in apathetic spaces, Walters stressed that the policies needed to create change are not meant to be a burden, but at the same time noted that if a complete transformation of a community resulted from sexual assault policies, “that means that there were clearly some issues… that needed to have been unpacked.”
Walters emphasized actionable, constructive dialogue as the primary avenue to reduce sexual violence. When discussing the difference between simply debating an issue and building new social structures, she posed the following question: “How can we use both perspectives … to find something that is safe for everyone?”
“Those tough conversations need to happen, but they need to end with something that’s as actionable as the intent going in,” she said.
Walters noted that whatever change the conversations settle on had to be grassroots in order to negate resistance, and that currently-mandated trainings don’t necessarily reach people. According to her, it will take time to create change.
“We’re not trying to punish people,” she noted. “There’s going to need to be a lot of learning … a lot of unlearning … not just pointing fingers and then figuring [it] out from there.”
According to Walters, Dartmouth needs tailored interventions instead of buzzwords, citing small population and geographic isolation as reasons. She claimed that these factors make it hard to build alternative social spaces, given that “Everything we do is consolidated, everything we do is very visible on a one-to-one basis… [and] issues spread quickly.”