You are on page 1of 14

Anna Winham

Professor Nozawa
Introduction to Language and Culture
Wednesday the 8th of May 2013
We Interrupted a Variety Show and Are Receiving Death Threats:
Meditations on the Language and Culture of the Dartmouth Nation
Picture: the College on the Hill, surrounded by charming New
Hampshire woods with trees just budding, swarming with hoards of
prospective students deciding whether to matriculate next year, and
buzzing with an undercurrent of discontent. This is Dimensions of
Dartmouth weekend 2013, Dartmouth Colleges chance to convince
admitted students as of yet undecided on attendance that Dartmouth
is where they want to spend their next four or five years, and
potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. Let us not forget that
Dartmouth is a business, indeed, the first official corporation in
America (Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward). The key
components of business include product, consumer, shareholder (in
some cases this may be owner), and sale. In the specific case of
Dartmouth College, a non-profit organisation, though not a nonrevenue one, these components are tricky to identify. Is the product an
education for consumer-students provided by the owner-trustees? Or is
the product a degree, a coupon-to-the-good-life, a fast-track to Wall
Street? Are students the consumers of education or the products?
What is Wall Street, with its significant recruiting investments, and the
U.S. government, with its significant financial aid investments,

purchasing from Dartmouth? Where do students who receive financial


aid fit into Dartmouths business model?
These questions open up ambiguities in the purpose of
Dartmouth College, a purpose I hope to elucidate, at least slightly,
through examining the disruption of the advertisement of Dartmouth,
an advertisement that often leads directly to a moment of transaction
(enrollment). The advertisement I shall examine is the Dimensions
Show, a series of skits and pop songs with re-written lyrics performed
by current first-years who have for the past two days tricked
prospective students into thinking that they too are prospective
students. The disruption I shall examine comes in the form of
Dartmouth #Realtalk, members of which disrupted the show, chanting
Dartmouth has a problem. To set the scene, I have included
segments from an article written by myself and published in The
Dartmouth Radical about the events of the disruption itself in Appendix
I as well as suggest the viewing of the Youtube video Another
Dimension of Dartmouth 2013.
Several components of this account speak to how an economy of
language is at play in this protest, how these student protestors and
performers all are exchanging their words and actions for material
consequences. Inspired by Benvenistes theories of linguistic economy
and social capital, let us begin by examining the linguistic economy at
play in the show itself, followed by an examination of the events

explained the article so as to illuminate how the protest disrupted not


only the show itself but also the economy in which it plays a part.
The dimensions show involves a group of freshmen directed by
two sophomores singing pop songs rewritten with pro-Dartmouth lyrics
for an audience of potential students. It is important to note that these
freshmen have experienced only a tiny fragment of Dartmouth thus far
in their careers, and the fragment they have experienced best
demonstrates the unity that the myth of the Dartmouth community
perpetuates as true: the D-plan has not yet separated them from their
closest friends for three to nine months; they have not had the
opportunity/instigation to participate as members in the Greek system;
they still live in a community of their friends, their freshman floors.
Those who have had unhappy first years do not, on the whole,
volunteer to participate in this show, and those who are unhappy dont
often yet speak about it due to the immense pressure to appear happy
at Dartmouth. In terms of a linguistic economy, people at Dartmouth
exchange praise of Dartmouth and expressions of overall happiness for
social capital. Criticism results not only in a loss of social capital but
also in physical and mental violence and trauma, as we shall see. The
dimensions show, involving happy and not yet disillusioned first-year
students, performs such an exchange, but in a broader social context:
the praise of Dartmouth as well as expression of overall happiness is
used to convince future students to attend Dartmouth, thus increasing

Dartmouths yield, leading to more prestige (social capital). This


prestige is the basis of Dartmouth the business. It is this prestige upon
which the corporation functions, whether we consider the education or
the students the product, the students or Wall Street the consumer.
The disruption of this message, then, becomes a (socio)economic
disruption for not only the college itself but also for the students,
especially those participating in the show. The disruption, the criticism,
threatens the basis of the business: the prestige, the social capital. As
detailed in the article in Appendix I, an organisation called #Realtalk
created alternative programming throughout the week. The
organisations name, #Realtalk, presents itself as real, that is, true.
Through its existence as contrast to official Dimensions programming,
#Realtalk supposes that the statements made by official powers, such
as those in the college-approved Dimensions showcase, are not truthstatements. While #Realtalk may or may not accept a language
ideology focused upon languages meaning rather than languages
doing, the descriptive rather than the performative as Austin
illuminates in How to Do Things with Words, #Realtalk actually is using
the prevalence of this language ideology in U.S. society to disrupt the
Dartmouth economy. By asserting itself as real and calling into
question the truth that Dartmouth College broadcasts, #Realtalk
exploits the Standard Average European ideology that speech should

hold truth, that we assess language on its truth-value, and that this in
some way indicates the value of the speaker.
Furthermore, the hashtag at the beginning of the name places
the movement into a context of grouped thoughts. The hashtag, as
defined by Twitter, is used to mark keywords or topics in a Tweet. It
was created organically by Twitter users as a way to categorize
messages. In computer science languages, hashtags can have an
array of different purposes, but the current social use is highly related
to the Twitter definition. Hashtags group thoughts and track trends.
Thus, the hashtag in #Realtalk groups #Realtalk into some larger
movement; a contemporary, internet-age movement; a tweet-worthy,
real-time, grassroots movement. This kind of a-spatial, internetinspired grouping allows the formation of an imagined community
divergent from space but thoroughly rooted in time; this is an internet
update on Benedict Andersons nationalist newspapers. In fact, even
within the #Realtalk movement at Dartmouth, the diffusion implicated
in the hashtag, in fact ironically due to its grouping function, intimates
that many kinds of people can be involved. This hashtag implies that
one can be from any space, but only from this time; this is a movement
of college students in the second decade of the twenty-first century.
Throughout the week leading up to the disruption, #Realtalk
posted flyers and chalk across campus advertising for a poetry and
discussion event that would take place on Friday before the dimensions

show. This poetry and discussion event was to be the site of real talk,
itself already a disruption of the rewarded message: love for
Dartmouth and overall happiness. Throughout the week, these posters
and this chalk were removed from public spaces: advertising disrupting
the Dartmouth advertising was removed. While the poetry and
discussion event went ahead, it did not cause the significant
(socio)economic disruption the #Realtalk movement had been hoping
for: it didnt threaten Dartmouths prestige.
However, disrupting the main site of advertisement offered the
opportunity to threaten this prestige. Entering the Class of 53
Commons chanting Dartmouth has a problem as well as statistics
surrounding sexual assault as well as bias incident reports, a group of
protestors confronted a group of performers, at which point performers
and prospective students began chanting we love Dartmouth. The
clashing of these two phrases indicates the economic interest each
furthers. Upholding the image of a beloved Dartmouth directly leads to
greater revenue on the part of Dartmouth College, the trustees, and
often graduates. Criticising the supposed perfection of Dartmouth
disrupts all of these avenues, endangering federal funding (especially
for research) as well as the value and marketability of a Dartmouth
degree. The face-off of these phrases demonstrates linguistic ideology
at play: the performers show an adherence to the idea of language as
truth-statements if they can assert that it is true that they love

Dartmouth, then this situation will be okay. However, the protestors


assert that Dartmouth has a problem, something that whether proven
by/in their statements or not, will draw (indeed, has drawn) national
attention towards the possibility that Dartmouth has a problem. Again,
the protestors exploit the ideology that language must be true in order
to disrupt the economy in which they play a part.
Following the protests, much of the criticism levied involved a
kind of wishy-washy approval of the message (Dartmouth isnt perfect)
but an abhorrence of the means, the media. All across the internet fly
claims that this was the inappropriate venue for such a complaint, that
shouting was an inappropriate method. What these criticisms mean is
that while Dartmouth is imperfect, disrupting its economy is not
acceptable to a population that on the whole thinks that it benefits
from Dartmouths social capital. Most people planning on receiving
degrees from Dartmouth also plan on capitalising on the prestige those
degrees carry. When this prestige is threatened, all of the linguistic (as
well as economic and academic) work that a student has put into
attaining the prestige of that degree seems as though it will go to
waste: all of the praise of Dartmouth and expression of happiness
seem as though they will have been for nothing. Disrupting the flow of
Dartmouth-praise disrupts the economic gains that many students
foresee (even if they foresee wrongly). Thus, pushes for this message
to have been conveyed through more appropriate media imply the

necessity for the expression of such a message, but only if that


expression does not threaten ones own economic future. However,
because a message implies an audience, the message itself would be
different were the audience different. If the audience were solely
college administrators, rather than journalists, college rankers, and the
parents of prospective students, the message would be not nearly so
threatening. The message only acts to disrupt if it is in certain media,
protest. The linguistic disruption is only threatening if it undermines
social capital, prestige, business. Unfortunately, in order to survive as a
business, Dartmouth must change. More and more college applicants
are people of colour, women, or out of the closet. A sustainable
business model must incorporate these people. However, maintaining
this business model still perpetuates privilege: still Dartmouth sells
students to Wall Street, to the U.S. government, to neo-imperialist
nonprofits. The economic system on which Dartmouth relies, and which
Dartmouth perpetuates, remains, even if people of colour, women, and
those out of the closet participate in it. The small disruption of the
economy that #Realtalk created, if heeded, will ultimately conserve
the Dartmouth corporation.
Cited Sources
Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin
and Spread of Nationalism. London and New York: Verso, 1991.
Print.
Another Dimension of Dartmouth 2013. Youtube. Web. 8 May 2013.

Austin, J. L. How to Do Things with Words. Cambridge, Massachusetts:


Harvard University Press. PDF.
Benveniste, Emile. Problems in General Linguistics. Proceedings of
the 9th International Congress of Linguists. Coral Gables, Florida:
University of Miami Press, 1971. PDF.
Jakobson, Roman. Closing Statement: Linguistics and Poetics.
Retrospects and Prospects. PDF.
Peirce, C. S. Three trichotomies of Signs. 1902. Philosophical Writings
of Peirce, ed. Justus Buchler, Dover 1955.
Dartmouth College v. Woodward. Princeton University. Web. 5 May
2013.
Using hashtags on Twitter. Twitter Help Center. Web. 8 May 2013.
winham, anna. We Interrupted a Variety Show and are Receiving
Death Threats or Its OK to Oppress Queers and Women and NonWhite People but its not OK to Object to that Publicly or If You
Dont Love Dartmouth, Why Havent You Transferred. The
Dartmouth Radical 24 April 2013. Web.

Appendix I

We Interrupted a Variety Show and are Receiving Death


Threats
or
Its OK to Oppress Queers and Women and Non-White
People but its not OK to Object to that Publicly
or
If You Dont Love Dartmouth, Why Havent You
Transferred
Facts presented in the article have been corroborated by
the students who have taken part in various aspects of the
#Realtalk movement.
I. This isnt dialogue!
Published: 4/24/13
1 in 4 women in college will be sexually assaulted.
Between 2008 & 2010, Dartmouth averaged 15 reports of sexual
assault among 6,000 students.
95% of sexual assaults on college campuses are not reported.
NOVEMBER 2011: homophobic, sexist graffiti on Gender-Neutral
Floor.
MAY 5, 2012: homophobic verbal attack on LGBT students.
MAY 11, 2012: racist verbal attack on student.
NOVEMBER 2012: racial slur on Obama poster, first-year dorm.
JANUARY 2013: racist verbal attack on students, 53 Commons.
JANUARY 2013: racist graffiti on students whiteboard, first-year
dorm.
JANUARY 2013: Nikkita McPherson gives Martin Luther King Jr.
Celebration Keynote Address Introductory Speech.
JANUARY 24, 2013: Jennifer McGrews article about privilege and
oppression at Dartmouth is published in The Dartmouth.
Comments describe her self-victimization and whining.
MARCH 29, 2013: Dickey Centre blitz accuses women and
minority students of keeping silent, of allowing self-doubt to hold

them back, of not jumping in, of weakening public debate


through their absence, and of not living up to their responsibility
to contribute. This blitz ignores structures of oppression that
have led to the exclusion of women and minorities from certain
spaces of discourse as well as excludes all of the dialogue in
which these students do participate on a daily basis.
MARCH 2013: Group of concerned students forms to discuss
outrage caused by Dickey Centre blitz and ongoing patterns of
bias and oppression. Group begins to plan dialogue events for
spring term, including events for Dimensions Weekend. Group is
made up of diverse individuals from many communities; actions
are undertaken by individuals and may or may not be supported
by other individuals within the group.
APRIL 2013: #Realtalk idea emerges; hopes to provide potential
future students with dialogue and information on their individual
experiences at Dartmouth, especially as these experiences relate
to what it is like for students of colour, LGBTQ students, students
without class privilege, and women to attend Dartmouth.
APRIL 17, 2013, Wednesday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, antihomophobic, anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken
word and discussion event ripped down from public areas while
other posters remain.
APRIL 18, 2013, Thursday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, antihomophobic, anti-classist chalk reported as bias incident and
erased by 8am.
APRIL 18, 2013, Thursday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, antihomophobic, anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken
word and discussion event ripped down from public areas while
other posters remain.
APRIL 18, 2013: students organising #Realtalk meet to discuss
concerns about censorship and silencing of their voices. Idea of
participating in the Dimensions Show arises, and the group
debates for almost four hours about the possible consequences,
both positive and negative. Some members decide not to
participate.
APRIL 19, 2013, Friday: anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic,
anti-classist posters advertising #Realtalk spoken word and
discussion event ripped down from public areas while other
posters remain.

APRIL 19, 2013, Friday: 9pm #Realtalk event attended by current


students but small number of admitted students. Though official,
college-sanctioned events promoting dialogue have taken place
during the day, these college-endorsed events still promoted,
even required, an ultimately positive review of the college,
according to one activist.
APRIL 19, 2013, Friday:
Some individuals sneak into the Dimensions Show with
fake wristbands and the intention of standing at the back
between skits, chanting as though part of the show, and leaving
calmly. Some people are recognised and asked to leave, at which
point other group members leave with them. Unsure of what to
do, the group gathers in Robinson Hall. One student, welldisguised as a 17, learns that no more 17s are being admitted
into 53 Commons due to fire safety regulations. The people at
the door have indicated that there is overflow viewing in the
library. While the rest of the group is debating a march to the
library, one student rushes over to the library to discover that no
such collective viewing is happening.
Frustrated with the continued silencing of these voices and
the stifling of this dialogue, the students decide to protest
outside 53 Commons. In the words of one protestor who wishes
to remain anonymous, were walking up; its pouring rain; were
stepping these steps to the big colonial door and theres the
director of admissions standing in a suit with his arms blocking
the door, two frat bros in fucking tank tops standing there,
looking down their arms with their arms crossed, keeping us out
of our space, physically blocking us from delivering our message
like they have been all weekend We said, please, we have a
message, we have tried to speak in other ways, this is our
cafeteria, we have something to say, excuse us. We did not
touch them.
Though protestors remain nonviolent, college employees
do not. Another protestor, also wishing to remain anonymous,
details that at this point another protestor grabbed the door
handle, and the director of admissions knocked her arm away.
This protestor managed to get her foot in the door and started
squeezing her body through the sliver. One anonymous activist
reports, shes in the middle of the door and theyre pushing the
door on her body. Another recalls saying, stop it, youre
crushing her. Stop it, you have to open the door.
Eventually a female administrator says stop, you cant do
that to a student, and the director of admissions opens the

door, in the process tripping over the leg of the frat guy,
according to an anonymous protestor, who also emphasises that
the student who had been stuck in the door is very physically
small. A different protestor says that this administrator tripped
over his own leg, detailing, people have been saying we
assaulted but that's not true at all.
The next layer of security includes Tim Duggan, a tall
college employee, who stood in a football stance like ready to
tackle, according to one protestor, thinking this was a joke until
when another protestor walks up, he literally wrestles her I
cant believe he just leaped on her! Not having expected
physical violence, the students are shocked and intimidated.
The third layer of security includes the participants in the
Dimensions Show, some of whom are crying and begging the
protestors not to disrupt the show on the basis that it will ruin
their life, asking why are you doing this to me? One student
mentions that she was holding a sign saying I was called a fag
in my freshman floor as well as notes that the performers saw
through the glass doors these protestors being subjected to
physical violence.
As performers try to chant protestors out, the protestors
begin chanting from their script. Performers then attempt to sing
over the chants of the protestors, meaning that the original plan
of chanting from the back between songs is no longer viable. The
protestors are forced to go in front in order to convey their
message instead of being silenced yet again. After physical
harassment and a forced change of plans, protestors are
bewildered and find it difficult to remain calm.
One activists comments, people keep saying they should
have been more organised; they should have been these
different things. But honestly, the people who were part of that
protest are some of the most eloquent, brilliant, well-spoken
people I know ______ is a fucking actor. He is prepared for this,
and he is so freaked out that he couldnt finish Why would we
have been able to be completely calm?
Students are screaming at us, This is not a dialogue!
Youre doing it wrong! Youre doing it wrong! All previous
attempts at dialogue had been silenced.
After creating this disturbance of the theatre that is
Dartmouth, the protestors decide to walk out, having
accomplished all that they think they can given the situation.
Dimensions performers, as they walk out, in a monotone begin
chanting, We love Dartmouth. Protestors trying to draw
attention to their own personal experiences of being silenced and
oppressed on the basis of race, gender, sex, sexuality, and

socioeconomic class find this, fucking creepy, or, "an eerie


example of pervasive groupthink.
After the protest, at least one protestor waits outside 53
Commons to continue dialogue with 17s leaving the show. Most
protestors seek out a safe space, an understandable plight given
the physical violence to which they were subjected earlier in the
night. Protestors gather to discuss possible repercussions from
the college, though they have carefully researched and made
sure to break no college rules.
A few hours later, the anonymous, hateful comments on
BoredatBaker and comments on the article in The Dartmouth,
which is edited without note of the changes made throughout the
night, begin appearing. Individuals depicted in the picture that
appears on The Dartmouths website begin receiving death and
rape threats. The Dartmouth refuses to remove the picture
despite how it endangers the personal safety of Dartmouth
students. B@B comments are sexist, racist, transphobic,
homophobic, and classist. Many protestors do not feel safe
walking alone or even sleeping.
How can people say this came out of nowhere? It was so
obvious. Schmiedt states.
Damn straight, there hasn't been dialogue. It's only
dialogue if you listen when we speak.