An independent student newspaper at Dartmouth College says it was a mistake to publish a Page One illustration of an Indian brandishing a scalp as part of a debate over the treatment of minorities on the Ivy League campus.
“It distracted attention from the serious journalism The Dartmouth Review has been publishing, not least in the articles that came after the cover. The result was that people are discussing the cover, the scalp and the offense felt by descendants of the original Americans,” editors Nicholas Desai and Emily Ghods-Esfahani wrote in a letter published Wednesday on The Review’s website.
The offending issue was published a week earlier under the headline “The Natives are Getting Restless.” It contained articles critical of College President James Wright, athletic director Josie Harper and a student group, Native Americans at Dartmouth.
The issue sparked a rally of more than 500 students, faculty and staff calling for more sensitivity to minorities and an end to racist speech at Dartmouth, which was founded more than 230 years ago as a school for American Indians.
“We certainly agree with the statement of President James Wright that all students at Dartmouth, whatever their background, should feel welcome here,” wrote Desai, the managing editor, and Ghods-Esfahani, an associate editor.
The two gave no ground, however, on the Review’s criticism of recent college actions – particularly Harper’s college-wide apology for scheduling a hockey game later this month against the University of North Dakota’s “Fighting Sioux.” North Dakota is one of several schools that has been labeled “hostile and abusive” by the National Collegiate Athletic Association for the use of American Indian imagery.
“There is such a thing as minding your own business. There is also such a thing as achieving a bit of perspective, even a sense of humor,” the two wrote. “There are no ‘racists’ or people who ‘hate’ at The Dartmouth Review.”
Dartmouth went on break this week after fall term exams, but The Review’s top editor, Daniel Linsalata, forwarded the letter to the Associated Press.
In an interview earlier, Linsalata said he was surprised by the furor over the cover, which he said was intended as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on “unreasonable” demands of American Indian students and faculty leaders.
“They’re very much looking to play the race card in any instance they can,” he said.
The week before, Dartmouth’s Native American Council – a mostly faculty group – demanded a response to a series of provocations. They included fraternity pledges disrupting a drumming circle in October, homecoming T-shirts showing a Holy Cross knight performing a sex act on an American Indian, and The Review’s distribution of Indian head T-shirts.
Wright, the college president, publicly deplored the incidents.
The college stopped using its Indian mascot decades ago, but The Review continues to sell Indian head canes, T-shirts, neckties and other souvenirs, calling them proud symbols of the school’s past.
In a statement last weekend, Linsalata repeated that the provocative Review issue — with its cover art showing a wild-eyed warrior clutching a scalp in one hand and a knife in the other, reprints of old Dartmouth Indian mascots, and satirical articles mocking those upset by a crew team formal with a “Cowboy and Indians” theme – was aimed strictly at Native Americans at Dartmouth, the student group, and not at American Indians in general.
“The accusation, then, that this cover was maliciously designed as a wantonly racist attack on … Native Americans is patently false. All the same, I regret that it could have been construed as such,” he wrote.
Members of Native Americans at Dartmouth say there’s no other way to interpret it.
“I don’t think it’s being oversensitive at all that I’m upset that our entire culture has just been taken and used as a satire by these guys,” freshman Shaun Stewart, a Cherokee, said last week. “To me, that’s a blatant attack on the Native American community here at Dartmouth.”
Senior Melody Jones, a member of the Pascua Yaqui tribe, agreed.
“Free speech doesn’t mean that you can write whatever you want and not be held accountable. What they’re asking for, it seems to me, is to have unaccountable speech.”