E-Mail Furor Follows Historic Appointment at Dartmouth

March 5, 2009

This week at Dartmouth College started with the announcement that Jim Yong Kim would become the next president. The choice was well received on campus, while Asian American educators nationally hailed the news because Kim will expand the very small pool of Asian American presidents and will be the first one to lead an Ivy League institution. Students at the college who produce a daily news mass e-mail of short humorous items called the Generic Good Morning Message looked for humor in the news, and have ended up being accused of insensitivity. Their e-mail to campus about the appointment said in part: "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. 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 full text can be found here.) Many students were, to put it mildly, not amused by the attempt at humor, prompting apologies, statements, calls for meetings and more. James Wright, Dartmouth's outgoing president, sent a campus e-mail Thursday calling the message "hurtful to our Asian and our Asian American community and indeed to all of us." Wright also forwarded to the campus a note from Kim, who said he understood the pain felt by Asians at Dartmouth over the e-mail, but did not want people to judge the college by the incident. He said Dartmouth is a place that "cherishes free speech, but also nurtures mutual respect and civility." Kim then went on to express concern for the student who sent the e-mail. Wrote the college's president-elect: "I want to ensure that the student who wrote the e-mail understands the enriching role that people of diverse backgrounds will play in his life. But I also don't want this lapse in judgment to limit his prospects for the future. Dartmouth students are very talented, but we all make mistakes -- especially when we are young."

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