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Protestors call for university system to drop charges against arrested UNH students

Protestors holding signs asking the board to divest and drop charges against students arrested May 1.
Amanda Pirani
Protestors held signs asking the University System of New Hampshire board to drop charges against students arrested May 1.

Students at the University of New Hampshire protested Friday morning outside a university system board meeting, calling for the university administration to drop charges against 11 students arrested during a pro-Palestine protest in May. Demonstrators stood outside the Memorial Union Building’s Strafford Room while the meeting was in session, chanting “drop the charges and divest.”’

The public portion of the Board of Trustees meeting came to a pause when it was determined by the board that protests' chants were too disruptive. Later, an officer warned the group they would need to reduce their volume. New Hampshire law states that police have the right to remove those who are actively disrupting a public meeting.

“We also have a right to conduct the business of the board without disruption,” Alex Walker, chair of the board, told protesters. “The chanting and the loudness is legitimately disrupting people's ability…to focus on the business being conducted.”

After moving back and lowering their volume, protestors remained outside for the duration of the meeting, which lasted about an hour and a half.

Protestors standing outside Board of Trustees meeting.
Amanda Pirani
Protestors chanted outside the Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning.

On the other side of the state, charges were dropped Thursday for at least 28 people arrested during similar protests at Dartmouth College, according to the Valley News.

Adeena Ahsan is a graduate student and member of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition at UNH. She said she believes the university should follow suit with institutions around the state and country.

“Charges have been dropped all around the country. Charges are being dropped even at UT-Austin, where they also called state troopers,” she said.

In an email to NHPR, Catherine Provencher, USNH chief administrative officer and incoming chancellor, said the university does not have the authority to drop charges against arrested students.

“There is a law enforcement process that the University System of New Hampshire and UNH respects and will allow to play out that is being managed by the Strafford County Attorney’s office and the university police department,” she said. “The university administration does not have authority to drop charges nor is it appropriate for university leadership to manage that law enforcement process.”

At least eleven people, including some students arrested on May 1, delivered a letter Friday morning indicating their intent to sue the university and Gov. Chris Sununu, according to Ahsan. The potential plaintiffs claim their civil rights were violated during the protest.

Provencher said the university has not yet received the letter and did not comment on the potential litigation.

Ahsan, who was present during the May 1 protest and helped organize the litigation, said the lawsuit is important to hold those in power accountable.

“On May 1st, our civil rights were violated,” she said. “We filed that notice of intention to sue so that we set a precedent where this kind of speech, this kind of assembly, is not criminalized.”

Ahsan said her experience in May and the administrative response has led her to feel unsafe on campus.

“As a person of color, I certainly don't feel welcome on this campus and by this administration, which feels so comfortable launching police onto their students for nothing,” she said. “Essentially, whenever they're uncomfortable.”

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