Hanover police arrest two students during 'Dartmouth New Deal' protest
This story was originally produced by the Valley News. NHPR is republishing it in partnership with the Granite State News Collaborative.
Dartmouth College had two student demonstrators arrested over the weekend in what activists are characterizing as a heavy-handed response to peaceful protest.
Around 1 a.m. on Saturday morning, the Hanover Police Department arrested the two students protesting in front of the office of the college’s president.
After spending six hours in a tent on the lawn in front of Parkhust Hall, Roan Wade, a junior, and Kevin Engel, a freshman, were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing.
The pair were calling on the college to adopt “The Dartmouth New Deal,” a list of progressive policy demands released by a student group on Friday. Among other initiatives — such as the development of affordable housing and actions related to climate change — the document urges the college to “comply with the recommendations of the 2022 Amnesty International report on Israeli apartheid by divesting the College’s endowment from all organizations that are complicit in apartheid and its apparatuses.”
Engel and Wade were released on bail – and the condition that they don’t enter Parkhurst again – shortly after their arrests, according to an email from the Dartmouth chapter of the Sunrise Movement to the Valley News.
A sign reading “Brave Spaces” leaned against the tent in front of which police handcuffed the two students. The slogan is one used often by Beilock herself in talking about protecting the free exchange of ideas on college campuses —a cause that she has made a pillar of her early presidency.
The arrests follow a series of demonstrations on campus over the past weeks, beginning with an Oct. 19 vigil for lives lost in the Israel-Hamas war. At the vigil, students planted black flags in front of Parkhurst to represent the deaths up to that point in the war. Students had been “keeping watch” over the flags since, according to The Dartmouth.
Engel and Wade entered the tent on the lawn of the building following a march for climate activism and social justice on campus Friday afternoon.
“Dartmouth claims to support free speech but arrested me for demonstrating against Dartmouth’s complicity in the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” Wade wrote in a press release from the Dartmouth chapter of Sunrise, a climate activism organization, of which Wade is a member.
The group is also responsible for the publication of The Dartmouth New Deal. For comment, Sunrise pointed to the statement above, as well as a statement released by a collection of student groups on campus.
“Dartmouth’s commitment to free speech and open discourse fell apart when met with student activism,” Wade wrote.
In an email to the student body on Saturday, Beilock addressed the arrests. While students had been gathering in front of Parkhurst peacefully for days, she wrote that the situation escalated “when two students entered the tent and threatened in writing to ‘escalate and take further action,’ including ‘physical action,’ if their demands were not met.”
Time spent “working with the students” to “find common ground” wasn’t fruitful, and college officials called Hanover police, Beilock wrote.
“The single most important responsibility that Dartmouth has is to keep the members of our community safe,” Beilock wrote. "The threat of ‘physical action,’ which our campus security must consider to be a threat of violence, meant the situation had to be brought to resolution.”
In a statement released in response to Beilock’s email, the Sunrise group said that the only reference to “physical action” in its writing comes from a portion of the Dartmouth New Deal that says that if the college administration doesn’t make commitments to address each item raised on the document by the Jan. 3, 2024, the first day of winter term, “those who believe in freedom will be forced into physical action.”
Beilock’s message “decontextualized and misinterpreted the term ‘physical action’ found in the document in order to justify the arrests and the needless escalation of the situation,” the Sunrise statement reads.
The statement said that the phrase “physical action” is not inherently violence, and can include nonviolent acts of civil disobedience “such as that taken by the student protesters.”
Hanover Police did not respond to multiple calls for comment from the Valley News on Saturday. Dartmouth communications would not comment beyond the statement issued by Beilock.
The Dartmouth chapter of the American Association of University Professors, which represents faculty in the Arts & Sciences and the professional schools, did not respond to email for comment by deadline.
Members of the Dartmouth Student Government urged college officials to “exercise better discretion when students engage in nonviolent civil disobedience” in a statement made to the undergraduate student body on Saturday, adding that “such action threatens to suppress students’ freedom of expression and dissent on campus.”
The statement from the student government said that Dartmouth officials had found the students in the tent in violation of college policies prohibiting overnight use of campus grounds, including by construction of encampments.
The two students’ protest style was in part a nod to the high-profile “shantytown” demonstrations on the college’s campus in 1986, in which 18 students were arrested for protesting against the college’s investment in companies profiting from South African apartheid by occupying tent-like structures on the green for a month.
A dozen students were suspended at the time for counter-protests in which they destroyed the makeshift buildings with sledgehammers.
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