Your Turn

Readers write, react, and respond. (January/February 2021)

Points of View

I was pleased to see DAM feature a number of Black alums in the November/December issue. I found the stories of Ahmed Osman ’65 (“He Was My Brother”) and Frank Wilderson ’78 (“Continuing Ed”) to be particularly compelling, not least of all because of the major contributions both have made to Black political thought and practice. Osman’s interventions in Malcolm X’s understanding of Islam and Wilderson’s pioneering work on Afropessimism have undoubtedly had profound effects on how past and present generations of Black thinkers and activists operate in the world.

Osman’s and Wilderson’s respective schools of thought seem to be in (I hope productive) tension with one another, as Osman’s insistence that Islam eliminated the color bar would seem to conflict with Wilderson’s assertion that the enslaving practices of Arab, Iraqi, and Iranian populations (among others) gave rise to Blackness as a category. These distinct points of view are just a couple of examples demonstrating the complexity of Black alums’ intellectual and political contributions—something I hope DAM continues to highlight in future issues.


Saint Paul, Minnesota


Political Football

The November/December DAM was informative and uplifting in its coverage of racial issues. But self-described “intellectual” Wilderson, instead of using his position to foster meaningful dialogue and encourage his minority students to excel, continues a diatribe against white supremacy. He proudly states that he doesn’t vote because “America is an unethical institution” and “doesn’t have a right to exist,” yet he refuses to work to reform the ills he sees. What a disappointment! 


Hudson, Iowa


In many ways all alumni can be proud that a person with the passion and performance of Wilderson can be a voice for diversity and justice on campus and beyond. Nonetheless, did ego get mixed with his calling out racism when his football career was mentioned? He is quoted as saying “I came to Dartmouth as an All-City, All-American linebacker and almost never started.” He goes on to say that alumni in their Mercedes and Jaguars kept him from starting. This was the era of Reggie Williams ’76, who captained the team, and has been inducted into the Hall of Fame after a 14-year pro career.

Most serious is the suggestion that the then-coach was easily pushed around by alumni to keep All-City, All-American linebackers from playing, even if it meant Dartmouth did not field its best players. I’m proud Dartmouth encourages diverse voices on campus, and Wilderson has much to be proud of in his work. But let’s be careful not to question the motives of good people and a proud College to further a narrative.


Round Hill, Virginia


Your recent issue quotes Wilderson discussing his Dartmouth football experience: “There were seven Black guys on the team, and they would get thrown in on the third and fourth quarter if the coach thought he needed to save the game.”

I played football for Dartmouth for four years, from 1971 to 1976. I was a three-year varsity starter during the years Wilderson references. Not once did alumni drive their Mercedes, Jaguars, or any other autos onto the practice field. Alumni attendance at practice was sparse, bordering on nonexistent. The depth chart rarely changed except for injury from Thursday to Saturday. I made 27 straight starts, and numerous African American players started those same games alongside me. Many who did not start saw significant playing time from the first quarter on. The coaches played the best players. This wasn’t youth sports. This was their profession and livelihood.


Denton, Texas


I take issue with comments by Wilderson regarding his experience playing football at Dartmouth. I played in the same era and have no recollection of alumni attending practice to influence coaching decisions. As players came from all over the country, it is a stretch to imagine that parents would travel to Hanover to attend practice with that purpose in mind. Many of us came to Dartmouth with recognition at the high school level only to learn that all the other players were also all-something and that many of them were at least as good or better than we might have been. To be angry about playing time in college at his age seems aberrant. I got over it after a decade or two. Wilderson’s comments are an insult to Dartmouth football coaches and players. I think the editors have a responsibility to provide a forum that gives voice to responsible and reasonable alumni. This interview has such a radical bias that it is difficult to glean useful information from it.


Las Vegas


X Factor

Thanks for the piece on Malcolm X and his visit to Hanover in January 1965 (“He Was My Brother,” November/December). I remember the enthusiastic standing ovation at Spaulding Hall that day, and—amid his disparaging words—the strong sense that he was formulating a global Islamic vision of equity for all peoples and races.

The details of the article are telling. The College was not interested in inviting Malcolm X. How fitting that a single international student and scholar from Sudan—Ahmed Osman—played a historic role in providing spiritual guidance for Malcolm X and later brought him to Hanover. Another advertisement for a diverse student body.

Kudos, too, to the Undergraduate Student Council for its support. Malcolm X was well on his way to becoming a global leader before he was tragically taken from us. Let’s hope for better as we start a new chapter 55 years later.


Silver Spring, Maryland


C.J. Hughes ’92 does an outstanding job of telling the story of how Osman, then a Dartmouth student, played a role in transforming Malcolm X’s view that white people are “akin to devils.” Osman’s influence caused Malcolm X to “toss aside some of my previous conclusions.” While this transformation is profound, a balanced story on Malcolm X should at least footnote that his deeply anti-Semitic rhetoric echoed across the decades through to today’s Nation of Islam, whose YouTube account, consequently, was suspended in October for hate speech.

After he broke from Nation of Islam, the newly branded Malik El-Shabazz shifted focus to demand black Africa separate from and reject Israel. He supported an idea that blamed Jews for colonization of Africa, and promulgated another branch of anti-Semitism that, no doubt, affects Jews worldwide to this day. Malcolm X did a service by shedding light on the plight of Black people on multiple continents but did so at a cost to a tiny minority that stood disproportionally with the civil rights movement when others did not, and that will always continue the tradition of supporting persecuted minorities. 


Providence, Rhode Island


Lost Cause

Tom Shakeshaft ’89 and all the other officials and witnesses who put away “El Chapo” deserve our appreciation and thanks (“After El Chapo,” September/October)—likewise those who work tirelessly to end the carnage of the drug cartels. However, he says, “It certainly can lead to the feeling that we were playing whack-a-mole,” and then asks, “What’s the alternative?”

We must recognize that the war on drugs has been lost. Drugs are more plentiful, more potent, and cheaper than ever. By what metric is that winning? Did we learn nothing from Prohibition? Then the mob, now the cartels, get rich. If there is a demand for a product, there will be a supply. Reducing the demand needs far more effort and resources. The role of the drug companies in promoting addiction should also be vigorously pursued. The dedication to these lines of attack, I believe, would lead to better results.


Tucson, Arizona


I enjoyed reading the article by Richard Babcock ’69 on Shakeshaft’s work prosecuting El Chapo and Tom’s personal struggles that ensued. In the late 1980s I was part of a small team of mental health experts engaged by the DEA and deployed to Guadalajara following the kidnapping and murder of DEA agent Enrique Camarena, later covered by 60 Minutes and publicized on the cover of Time. The international criminal investigation took years to conclude, as it implicated layers of foreign government officials as well as the drug cartels.

I learned only after arriving in Mexico that our itinerary and identities had been shielded from view, although that did not prevent our being followed and monitored. Our mission was to assess the effects of working and living in such an environment on the DEA agents and their families, who had been subject to threats and surveillance, and then to make recommendations for ongoing support or changes in personnel. It was a tense but humbling experience, which confirmed the unique short- and long-term psychological impact on normal, educated, and committed professionals of this context in which trust is such a precious commodity.

After returning stateside, the DEA tried to get me interested in accompanying their agents on night surveillance flights, on previously confiscated aircraft, into remote areas of Colombia and Bolivia to understand better the stress of that work. I declined the offer. 

On one surreal afternoon in beautiful Guadalajara I stumbled into the famous outdoor murals of José Orozco, painted in the 1930s just after he completed his masterpiece in Baker Library.


Cleveland Heights, Ohio


Bad Apples

I found a lot not to like in the September/October edition. Particularly irksome was a faculty comment in “Campus Confidential” under the heading “Bad Apples.” As to honor code violators, earth sciences professor Robert Hawley was quoted: “The only ones who are likely to be caught are the ones who are not doing it well.” My family takes exception to this inflammatory assertion. I take this business of honor code violations personally, since I was accused of cheating on a biology laboratory examination by a senior faculty member who was not only a world-renowned researcher and pillar of the local community but also my faculty advisor. His direct quote to the shaking 17-year-old before him was: “In the 20 years I’ve been giving that test, you’re the first to score 100 percent. How did you cheat?”

My responses: I didn’t need to cheat, because I had covered the same material, in greater detail, in high school. Wasn’t it lazy to give the same test for two decades? I want a new advisor. You should find some other job, if you see every student as a potential cheater.

Luckily, that’s as far as it went. My advice to the faculty is to do some soul-searching.




Great Outdoors

Thanks to DAM online for its link to the amazing article, “Braving Hostility,” by Latria Graham ’08 in Outside magazine. Beautiful writing, gripping challenges, determined hope for Black people to be better able to enjoy the outdoors.


Columbia, Maryland


In Vain

I have vowed not to contribute to the Alumni Fund until the venerable weathervane is restored to the Baker Library tower. I’ve been dismayed by the College’s apparent embarrassment over its history and traditions for years. The removal of the weathervane (September/October) was the final straw.


Reston, Virginia



Swim Team Redux

The matter-of-fact manner in which DAM reported the elimination of five varsity athletic teams (“Varsity Blues,” September/October) subsumes the shock, anguish, and deep personal despair experienced by 110 student-athletes and five coaches and their families. An institution that espouses and promotes “inclusivity” and “community” defies their accomplishment by such an action.

As a member of the group (including John Ballard ’55, Steve Mullins ’54, and ’04 parent Neal Allen) that raised more than $2.25 million in 2002-03 to reinstate the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams, I find this action, taken less than two decades later—for exactly the same reason as then—to be a rebuke to me and the more than 1,000 others who made the effort and gave generously to save the teams. Those who made the gifts recognized the funding would sustain the teams for 10 years, but their expectation was that once the College got through its financial difficulties, the teams would be continued just as all the other teams were. The athletic director, by choosing the swimming and diving teams once again for elimination, made a prejudicial decision. He knew of the prior undertaking to save the teams and the effort that went onto it, yet he terminated them once again.

My heart goes out to the young men and women who have been deprived of the opportunity I had as a swimmer to closely bond with their teammates, thereby forming lifelong friendships; develop the personal discipline that will serve them in their future lives; and have the deep satisfaction and pride of saying, “I did it. I competed for Dartmouth.” Just attending Dartmouth creates an affection for the institution—competing for it creates a bond that endures. The College has the ability to make that happen if it cares.


Exeter, New Hampshire


Norman Maclean ’24, the Undergraduate Years
An excerpt from “Norman Maclean: A Life of Letters and Rivers”
One of a Kind
Author Lynn Lobban ’69 confronts painful past.
Trail Blazer

Lis Smith ’05 busts through campaign norms and glass ceilings as she goes all in to get her candidate in the White House. 

John Merrow ’63
An education journalist on the state of our schools

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