“In order to do good, you must first do well” | The Transformation of Black Dartmouth

Digital Exhibit by Junelle Matthias, Dartmouth College Class of 2023

“They say a Sankofa bird of West Africa sees backward while it flies forward. It knows where it's going because it knows where it's been. I felt like the Sankofa bird. I know where I'm going, because I know where I’ve been, and so the idea of being a judge and being fair to people was easy to me.”  

As part of the Dartmouth Black Lives Project, I had the opportunity to interview Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux on October 24, 2021. In 1967, on the last day to accept Dartmouth's offer of admission, Thibodeaux decided to enroll at Dartmouth College, where he encountered the intricacies of white society and his "subconsciousness." He attended Dartmouth from 1967 to 1971. At Dartmouth, he majored in government, was active in Tucker Foundation programs, and helped recruit Black students to Dartmouth College. Thibodeaux's participation in the Tucker Foundation played a significant role in his Dartmouth experience. From his travels across the country teaching students, Thibodeaux learned more about who he is and what he wants away from the Ivy League classroom.  

JUNELLE MATTHIAS: How was your experience in the Tucker Foundation, given the political climate at Dartmouth at the time?
GENE THIBODEAUX: It was great. I'm glad I was involved. A lot of your education, Junelle, comes from the exterior, not the Interior, and I found out that this is what the real world is, and these are some of the real-world problems, and these are some of the pragmatic ways that you can approach those problems. You really don't have a full appreciation of those problems and the implementation of programs to address those problems until you were away from the cocoon. You're growing up.

Driven by the need​​ to assist his community in social and political activities and practices, the need to use law as a means of changing society, and his time at Dartmouth, Thibodeaux attended Tulane Law School and graduated in 1975. Since then, he has practiced civil rights law, criminal defense law, and personal injury law. Thibodeaux served as the Chief Judge of the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Louisiana. He was awarded the Judge Leon Higginbotham Award for Judicial Excellence, the Thurgood Marshall Award, the National Bar Association Award, and the Louisiana State Bar Association's President's Award.  

Thibodeaux's experience at Dartmouth was eyeopening and I was amazed by his commitment to education and improving his community.  By the end of the interview, I was eager to explore how Black Dartmouth has evolved, what it means to be a Black college student during the early 1970s at an Ivy League institution, and learn how Dartmouth College has evolved into the diverse coed college it is today. 

Starting with student activism and ending with Black love, this exhibit will explore the transformation of Black Darmouth from ninety Black students in 1969  to women making up half the undergraduate population at Dartmouth and half the students classifying themselves as a race or ethnicity other than white. 

The Dartmouth Black experience differs for everyone and is more nuanced than the mainstream story.  I invite you to explore and learn how the actions of students created change and closed the gaps between accessibilty and race and gender equality. 

BADA gathering in 2010

The Black Alumni of Dartmouth Association (BADA) was created in 1972 comprising of 50 members. By 2012, BADA has  3,187 members.