Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Racist e-mail on new Dartmouth president draws controversy
By Emily Goodell
March 05, 2009
Source: The Dartmouth, Dartmouth College
An e-mail that referred to Dartmouth College President-elect Jim Yong Kim as a “Chinaman” and warned the campus to prepare for “Asianification” has sparked controversy on campus, less than three days after the announcement that the Harvard professor and global health leader would be inaugurated as the College’s 17th president. The e-mail, which was sent to approximately 1,000 students and alumni, was the Tuesday morning edition of the Generic Good Morning Message, a student written and edited tongue-in-cheek compilation of each day’s news.
College President James Wright released a statement on the matter late Wednesday night.
“The announcement of Dr. Jim Yong Kim’s election as the 17th president has been received enthusiastically across the campus and by all members of the Dartmouth community,” Wright said. “It is unfortunate that an offensive attempt at humor has distracted us and has caused hurt and embarrassment. This does not represent the mood that we share and it will not deter us from our plans warmly to welcome Dr. Kim and his family to this open and gracious community.”
The Tuesday morning e-mail led with a feature written by anonymous GGMM intern “Lozar Theofilactidis.”
“On July 1, yet another hard-working American’s job will be taken by an immigrant willing to work in substandard conditions at near-subsistent wage, saving half his money and sending the rest home to his village in the form of traveler’s checks,” the message states, in part. “Unless ‘Jim Yong Kim’ means ‘I love Freedom’ in Chinese, I don’t want anything to do with him. Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant.”
The GGMM, which began in 1996, is currently edited by a group of six Dartmouth upperclassmen. Underclassmen interns contribute to the publication.
The author of the original e-mail apologized for “inappropriate” and “insensitive” comments in an e-mail to the GGMM listserv on Tuesday, saying that the comments were intended to be satirical. The GGMM staff also offered a follow-up apology, saying they regretted their lack of oversight.
“We cannot stress enough the intention behind this message was not malicious,” Courtney Davis ‘09, a member of the GGMM staff, said in an e-mail to the listserv. “The writer is full of regret; did not intend to offend anyone, and has committed to meeting with others, from diverse backgrounds, to learn as many lessons as possible from this experience. Although the GGMM is a listserv administered by six students and is not affiliated with the College in any way, we recognize the impact that this unfortunate incident has had on the community.”
Many students were upset by the e-mail both because of its perceived offensiveness and because they believed it reflected badly on the College, Aimee Moon ‘09, an intern with the Pan-Asian Council, said. Moon is a member of The Dartmouth staff.
“We went from a really excited, hopeful mood on Monday to having all the excitement get deflated by something that doesn’t reflect the campus’ reception of the President-elect,” Moon said.
College President James Wright spoke with students on Tuesday and is open to future meetings to discuss the situation, according to Sylvia Spears, director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and acting senior associate dean of the College.
The nature of the speech in the e-mail does not warrant College disciplinary action, Spears said in an open campus meeting on Wednesday evening, noting that Dartmouth does not have a speech code.
Ray Leung ‘10, who attended the meeting, expressed frustration that some people on campus saw the e-mail as a joke.
“This is a very severe issue,” he said. “This should not be taken lightly as ‘borderline inappropriate.’”
Spears said that the e-mail has provided a “teachable moment” for students.
“I have been very impressed with students’ ability to engage in very difficult conversations with poise and respect for each other,” she said.
She added that Kim has responded to the e-mail with concern about its potential effect on campus.
“He had a very reasoned response and has been in conversation with President [James] Wright,” she said.
Students interviewed by The Dartmouth had overwhelmingly positive comments about Kim’s appointment. College Democrats president David Imamura ‘10 said he had been warned before he matriculated that the College was less diverse and more conservative than others, but that Kim’s selection shows that Dartmouth values diversity.
“Choosing Dr. Kim really sends a message that Dartmouth leads the way in diversity and in making sure that everyone has the opportunity to make what they can of themselves,” he said.
Students and faculty have praised Kim’s appointment as Dartmouth’s next president. Many said they hoped Kim would bring a fresh perspective to the College.
Student Body President Molly Bode ‘09, who served as the student representative on the presidential search committee, said she could not be more pleased with the choice.
“He is as impressive, or even more impressive, in person as he is on paper,” Bode said. “I have never met someone who is so inspirational.”
Kim’s appointment will “put Dartmouth on the map” in the global health world, biology department chair Tom Jack said.
“There’s been a great surge of interest in global health, and Dartmouth hasn’t had a lot to offer in that area,” he said. “With the hiring [of Kim], that changes pretty dramatically. Students with an interest in global health will want to come to Dartmouth now — undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty. He’ll be a magnet to attract faculty in that area.”
Many students said they believed Kim’s selection could help change the typical image of an Ivy League leader.
“I have never been more proud to be a Dartmouth student,” Alex Maceda ‘11 said. “It feels great to be an Asian-American at Dartmouth.”
Kim’s race should not be the sole focus of the community’s excitement and expectations, Nora Yasumura, acting assistant director of the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and adviser to Asian and Asian-American students, said.
“It really isn’t because he is a person of color that he’ll be a great president,” she said. “Most important are the skills and insight he will bring to campus.”
Many faculty members praised Kim’s experience as a professor and researcher.
“I think [Kim’s appointment] shows understanding and appreciation of the roles the graduate schools and especially the medical school play in the life of Dartmouth,” Dartmouth Medical School senior associate dean for academic affairs William Hickey said.
The Board of Trustees took a “brave step” in selecting Kim because he is a doctor and a leader in a specific field, Hickey said.
“I don’t see a downside to it,” he said. “I understand that he is a thoughtful leader. He has a lot of presence not only in the medical field, but in the academic world.”
Dartmouth Asian Organization President David Louie ‘09 said he was somewhat concerned about Kim’s relative lack of experience with undergraduate institutions, but he said Kim’s speech on Monday reassured him that the president-elect would remain dedicated to Dartmouth’s traditional emphasis on undergraduate education.
“He’s got the unique ability to take both the undergraduate and graduate [schools] to a higher level and really get all the parts of Dartmouth to coalesce and work together,” Thayer School of Engineering Dean Joseph Helble, a presidential search committee member, said.
Dean of Faculty Carol Folt also expressed enthusiasm about Kim’s relationship with the faculty.
“He has an extremely strong faculty background,” Folt said. “I think they’re going to look at him as a person that really understands the aspirations they have for global involvement. He is very actively involved in some of the biggest issues of our times.” Kim has a receptive, relatable personality that makes him a great choice for president, several faculty members said.
“I think he’s lots of things we were looking for,” economics professor Jonathan Skinner, a search committee member, said. “[He has] leadership skills, charisma, a sense of moral purpose, excitement. We couldn’t be happier.”
Some members of the Class of 2009 said they were aware of Kim’s background even before the announcement of his appointment because they were required to read “Mountains Beyond Mountains” by Tracy Kidder the summer before matriculation. The book is about Paul Farmer, now a professor at Harvard Medical School, and his work at Partners in Health, a global health organization he co-founded with Kim.
“I was inspired by Partners in Health after reading Mountains Beyond Mountains,” Sam Kennedy ‘09, an intern in Wright’s office, said. “Although I am not interested in the medical field, it actually inspired me to possibly go into education in developing countries.”
Others see Kim’s selection as a positive opportunity to introduce a fresh perspective to the College.
“He can change some of the atmosphere on campus because he’s not really tied to this scene,” Uthman Olagoke ‘11 said. “New ideas, new outlook.”
Jack said that Kim’s background distinguishes him from previous Dartmouth presidents and other leaders in the Ivy League, many of whom first after spent their careers serving as deans, provosts and presidents of other institutions.