Out, and leading, at Dartmouth
Students vote in a gay man as their president; his views on campus matters are lauded
HANOVER, N.H. -- Tim Andreadis was the dark horse in Dartmouth College's contest for the student body president. He was a write-in candidate who championed reduced student government spending, while his opponents offered the popular plank of preserving the Greek system.
Last month, he won, taking more than half of the ballots cast in the four-way race. But more stunning to some is that Andreadis is an openly gay student, the first to win the post at a college known for a conservative streak.
Dartmouth, the last college in the Ivy League to admit women and the home of the right-leaning Dartmouth Review, dealt quietly with sexual orientation for years. It was a place where some feared that coming out could spur negative reactions. Andreadis's victory signals a change, say some students and administrators.
''Tim's election makes it clear that this campus is more welcoming, more inclusive and that students like Tim feel more comfortable sharing all aspects of their identities," said Holly Fell Sateia, dean of student life at Dartmouth.
Andreadis did not make his sexual orientation an issue in the campaign, though he said students were aware of it because he has served as president of the school's Gay-Straight Alliance.
''People knew me as out," he said. ''And that was fine."
More important, he and others said, was aggressive door-to-door campaigning and e-mailing, coalition-building among campus groups, particularly minority student groups, and a platform that addressed campus issues.
Indeed, students seemed surprised when asked last week how Andreadis's sexual orientation factored into the race.
''I voted for him because I felt like student government doesn't really do anything, and he raised some real issues that I think need to be addressed," said Jeff Woodward, a senior from Newton.
A friend, Anthony Bramante, who also voted for Andreadis, said sexual orientation ''wasn't even part of the conversation during the election."
Bramante is a senior from Cleveland.
That would not necessarily have been the case until fairly recently. In a letter published last week in the student newspaper, ''The Dartmouth," Brian Ellner, an alumnus, wrote, ''When I was elected student body president at the end of my sophomore year in 1990 it was widely reported that I was the first-ever 'non-Greek' to hold that office. It was never reported that I was gay. Sadly, winning that race as an openly gay candidate would not have been possible."
Pamela Misener, an assistant dean of student life and adviser to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, said Dartmouth in the 1960s and 1970s was ''outright homophobic."
She attributed the atmosphere to a tradition-bound campus, where change comes slowly, and the school's rural setting far from shifting attitudes in urban places. Changes in national attitudes, along with local policies, such as the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the school's anti-discrimination policies, propelled a more inclusive sensibility at Dartmouth starting in the 1990s, Misener said.
The school also expanded its support for the estimated 200-plus gay and lesbian students on a campus that counts some 4,100 undergraduates.
In 2002, the school created the Office of Pluralism and Leadership, which offers support to minorities, including gay and lesbian students.
Today, students said, being publicly gay or lesbian at Dartmouth is possible without feeling pressured or constrained.
''It's easy for me to be open here," said Sasha Acher, a senior from Wisconsin who said she dates women. ''It's a pretty supportive culture."
She said that coming out remains difficult for some students. For them, she said, Andreadis's election will be meaningful.
''For closeted people, it's intense," she said. ''It's another face on campus to look at and say, 'He's out.' "
Still, she and others said, more important than being the first openly gay student to win the office is for Andreadis to use the office to good effect, which could be a challenge.
Student government at Dartmouth, as at many other schools, is not a powerful force on campus. As a student voice, the Greek system tends to trump it in prestige and influence. But student government was once an engine of dramatic change, propelling in 1954 a student referendum that required fraternities to eliminate discriminatory clauses that prohibited Jews and nonwhites from joining. Students passed the measure, and by 1960 the discriminatory clauses were no longer in effect, according to Jere Daniell, a retired Dartmouth history professor who is a leading specialist on the school's history.
Andreadis, a philosophy and women and gender studies major from Cheshire, Conn., has heady goals for his term. He wants to improve the retention rate of minority and women faculty, and he wants to decrease the number of sexual assaults on campus.
The number of those events has not notably increased, but has been the subject of attention in the school newspaper.
He also wants to change housing policy so that students are not restricted to living with others of the same gender. He said that doing so would make gay and lesbian students more comfortable.
''I wanted to make student government about changing social and cultural issues," he said.
In the process, ''I hope people see Dartmouth as not as conservative as they once thought."
Sarah Schweitzer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.