Dartmouth students want to dump Dr. Seuss for social justice

This Monday afternoon, a normally quiet meeting room in Dartmouth’s College Hall was filled with students debating whether the New Hampshire Ivy league should change the theme of its annual Winter Carnival to “Snow Justice, Snow Peace.”

The meeting, originally intended as a space to organize the students volunteering at this year’s carnival, became a forum for debate over the carnival’s theme. The student planning board had intended to use the theme, “The Cat in the Hat Comes to Winter Carnival.” They had worked to obtain permission for the theme from Seuss Enterprises, which had granted permission to the college, in part because the Seuss family planned to attend this year. Unfortunately, these efforts may have been in vain.

Dartmouth’s Winter Carnival tradition began in 1910, and by the 1920s it had grown to the point that National Geographic called it, “the Mardi Gras of the North.” Since these early days, the weekend of winter festivities has featured a monumental snow sculpture and a prevailing theme, such as “Land of Ice and Fire,” “2001: An Ice Odyssey,” and, “Winter Wanderlust.”

Some of these themes, such as “Hanover Hears a Who,” have drawn on Dartmouth’s connection to Theodore Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss. Even Hillary Clinton has recalled traveling to Dartmouth to participate in these festivities.

In an email distributed to campus on Sunday, an unknown group of students called for the theme to be changed to “Snow Justice, Snow Peace,” a pun of the common Black Lives Matter protest chant, “no justice, no peace.” The email explained that, “The Cat in the Hat Comes to Winter Carnival does not recognize the urgency of student safety and our need to address community-wide issues surrounding race and social justice, pressing concerns both on this campus and in our country.”

The email further suggested that, “This is a unique and critical opportunity to center the discussion around People of Color [sic] on campus.” In order to further its purpose, the email suggested that students attend the Monday meeting, despite the fact that the meeting was not intended to address the theme.

The meeting was attended by both supporters of the email, concerned students, and a few innocent would-be volunteers. Before the meeting could start, a student who called himself Geo made a loud announcement that he would be filming the proceedings to hold people accountable for what they said. 

Campus Reform has discovered what appears to be the recording of the meeting, which was posted on YouTube. It can be seen below.

The panel assured him and others that they intended to insure that everyone felt heard. As soon as the panel concluded their introductory remarks, Geo stepped in and reiterated the message of the previous email. He further stated that the email was drafted by a, “coalition of people of color,” and that some of those people did not feel safe attending the event after the negative response their protest had received on social media.

A lengthy debate followed between those who felt that the change in theme was necessary for their personal safety and those who saw the change as an affront to the congenial spirit that normally defines the carnival. When questioned about what kind of events a social-justice-themed carnival would include, Geo replied that Cornel West, a prominent member of the Democratic Socialists of America, was saving the date in case the theme was changed. While many of those favoring the changed used the argument that it was necessary for the “public safety” of people of color, others who were more ambivalent about the change of theme argued that such a change would only further endanger marginalized groups.

“I feel like Winter Carnival shouldn’t be a politicized space. I feel like it sets a dangerous precedent,” Sam Lawhon, a freshman at the college, said.

Many others expressed concern that, regardless of the merit of the cause, the change would be divisive. The students organizing the Carnival then shut down the meeting, promising to look into the matter and consult with college legal counsel regarding a contract signed with Seuss Enterprises. While it is unclear whether any change will be made to the theme, it is possible that a combined Seuss-social-justice Carnival will grace the Dartmouth Green this Winter.

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