Keene State College Faces Public Reckoning After Arrests Of Two Black Students | New Hampshire Public Radio

Keene State College Faces Public Reckoning After Arrests Of Two Black Students

Feb 18, 2021

Tyler Clavelle and Khady Badiane, two former Keene State College students who are still grappling with an arrest from March 2020.
Credit Khady Badiane

The past year for Ndeye Badiane, who goes by Khady, is not at all what she thought it would be - and not just because there’s a pandemic going on. 

“I thought I would be graduated,” she said. 

Last year’s spring semester was supposed to be Badiane’s last at Keene State College. She and her fiancé, Tyler Clavelle, had hoped to start a non-profit to provide child care for low-income families after graduation.   

But then, in mid-March, she and her fiancé were arrested and charged with resisting arrest, simple assault and trespassing. 

The morning it happened, Badiane woke up sick. It wasn’t COVID, but it was bad. She’d been throwing up for hours and was dehydrated. 

“So that morning I had woken up and my throat was on fire,” she said. 

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She was also feeling anxious and couldn’t get to sleep, so to calm down, she went outside to smoke pot. She finished the pipe in her dorm room. 

The hall’s director noticed the marijuana smell and called campus security for support. 

When she came to Badiane’s room, she realized that Badiane wasn’t alone. Her fiancé, Tyler Clavelle, didn’t have permission to be in the dorm during spring break because he didn’t live there, but Clavelle said he was there to take care of his sick fiancée.

“I’m standing right here in the middle of the room, in the middle of the doorway, with a remote,” he said. “Why would I be hiding? Why would she be lying?”

Things got really tense when Clavelle went to use the women’s restroom to wash his hands, after searching through bags of trash to find the pipe and handing it over the hall director. 

Clavelle is nonbinary, but uses he/him pronouns. The hall director, Jessica L’HommeDieu, told Clavelle he couldn’t use that restroom 

In her report of the incident, L’HommeDieu wrote that she heard Badiane referring to Clavelle with he/him pronouns, and as her fiancé, which she said in her report “is traditionally used in male/female relationships.” 

According to the hall director’s report, she told Clavelle that Keene State has gendered bathrooms and that it was a policy she needed to enforce. 

There was an argument. Clavelle said he would call “what’s her name” about what was going on. 

The hall director thought that Clavelle had forgotten his fiancéee’s name; he said he was trying to remember the name of a dean.  

Clavelle says he cursed at her. L'HommeDieu told him he had to leave. 

Badiane and Clavelle say his appearance - a 6 foot tall Black person with dreadlocks - affected how the hall director perceived him. 

“It was completely based on Clavelle’s looks, attitudes and background and clearly that he was with me,” Badiane said. 

The campus security officer L’HommeDieu had called for support called Keene police. Ultimately, at least five police officers ended up at the dorm, according to arrest reports.

Badiane was still feeling ill - reports say she had to lean on a wall for support. Someone called an EMT, and as she went to the stairwell to talk with the paramedic, Badiane started to record a video on her cell phone.  

Eventually, Clavelle said he would leave, if he could just change into warmer clothes first. A police officer said he’d have to supervise while that happened.

Clavelle refused. 

And so, police moved to arrest him. At that moment, Clavelle says he remembered the conversations he’d had with his mom and family growing up about what to do if he ever had to face a group of police officers.

“And so I just freeze up because I know I shouldn't be arrested, but I don't want to die, so I dropped to the ground,” he said.  

He says didn’t want to appear that he was grabbing the cop or a gun. So he sat down and put his hands under his legs. 

“I'm just thinking, there's no way out of this. Like, I just, not only is my life about to be permanently changed, but I just f----- up my fiancée's life,” he said.  

Badiane said that as she watched Clavelle get arrested she thought about all the other times when an arrest has been deadly for other Black people. She says she heard Clavelle say “They’re choking me,” and she says she saw a police officer's hands on his neck. 

“That paralyzing fear, like, is insane, you know what I mean?” she said. “But I just put it like this. This is the love of my life. This my best friend. Like, I just could just not let that happen.” 

So she says she put her arms close to her chest, and intentionally knocked into one of two arresting officers. They all fell. 

One of the officers called for back-up, according to arrest reports. 

The two were quickly arrested after that. Badiane says her shoulder was dislocated as she was arrested. On her cell phone video, you can hear her screaming, “Why are there six of you on me?”  

Badiane was charged with resisting arrest and simple assault; Clavelle with resisting arrest and trespassing.

“I Took Responsibility” 

In the days that followed, Badiane replayed the incidents in her mind and thought about the specific moments when things could have been de-escalated: letting Clavelle use the restroom of his choice in a nearly empty residence hall, or letting him change clothes in private. 

“I took responsibility for smoking the weed, like I took responsibility for everything that we did wrong, you know?” she said. “So it's just like I really, like, thought in that moment is there anything we could have done differently? ”

In the police reports, officers said they did not choke Clavelle - they said they applied a pressure point on his face after they had lost control of his left arm in the fall. 

Keene’s chief of police, Steven Russo, declined an interview, but said in an email that his officers attempted to de-escalate the situation, and that quote “there was absolutely no use of excessive force, and the minimal force used was reasonable and necessary due to the active resistance of the suspects.” 

Credit Sheryl Rich-Kern for NHPR

Summer 2020

Within a week of the incident, Badiane and Clavelle left Keene, and by the end of the summer, the couple moved back to New Orleans, Clavelle’s home-town. 

They had a court date set for Feb. 18, 2021. 

In June, they got a community-wide email from Keene State College President Melinda Treadwell about the death of George Floyd. Badiane reached out to share what had happened to her and Clavelle. And the two met with Treadwell twice over the summer. 

Badiane says they wanted a few things from Keene State: the firing of the campus security officer and hall director, payment for their therapy fees, and help finishing school.

And she says they also wanted Treadwell, and Keene State College, to acknowledge that race was a major factor in what happened that day in March. 

“You also need to realize the times that we live in. An RA [resident advisor/assistant] can't just call the cops on a Black student because of the times that we live in. You're literally putting their lives at risk, like the nuances of all of that needs to be understood,” Badiane said. “And if she won't admit that it's, race is a big factor in where in New Hampshire, an all white town like issue won't just, you know what I mean? It’s not that hard to see.” 

The couple says they also advocated for racial sensitivity training for campus employees.  

“This isn’t one-off circumstances. This is the culture of the community here,” Clavelle said. “Like they just don’t have the experience, and they don’t really care to get it.” 

The two former students say that Keene didn’t meet their demands, and a promise to send a list of action steps the college would take never came through. 

In a statement to NHPR, Melinda Treadwell says that Keene State quote “offered enrollment and academic support,” and that staff in the Office of Multicultural Student Support and Success reached out to both students. 

“All Of That Is Erased By This” 

For months, Badiane and Clavelle have been feeling the ripple effects of the arrest. They have trouble sleeping, and they feel a heightened sense of anxiety when they see police officers. 

Badiane says she can’t get a job nannying, since her arrests show up on background checks. 

“I have six years of experience, I have references. All of that is erased by this,” Badiane said. Clavelle is working for DoorDash.

They’ve struggled to find therapy, because of the cost and challenges with health insurance. 

“I know how much time it’s going to take to get myself back to what I was, to literally piece myself back together. That’s my time though. It could be years or months,” Clavelle said.

For months, the couple kept their experiences private, but on January 12, Badiane posted the videos she recorded the day of the arrest on Twitter.

That’s forced Keene State College to publicly grapple with the arrests. 

The campus of more than 3,000 students had about 70 Black or African American students in 2019

Earlier this month, President Treadwell told the Keene Sentinel, “In all of the records that I’ve been able to see, I do not see examples of specific racially motivated bias in this case.  What I do see is conflict. What I do see is a very confused environment.”  

In an email to the college community around the same time, Treadwell said that the college is implementing de-escalation training for residential staff, expanding its professional development programming for employees and updating its protocols around campus safety and crisis management. 

Following that letter, faculty and teaching fellows asked for the administration to put its full support behind Badiane and Clavelle through a number of steps. 

Those include a formal and public apology to the students; agreeing to pay for the legal, physical and mental health costs incurred by the students, and refunding their tuition and paying their tuition at any institution of their choice to complete their degrees. 

Nearly 60 faculty and staff members have signed on. In an email to NHPR on Feb. 15, the Keene State Teaching Fellows team leaders said that they and faculty “have been in productive conversation with the KSC administration” since they sent their petition.

Sophomore Sophie Poppenga and two other students are planning a demonstration for this Friday, Feb. 19 at noon, to support Badiane and Clavelle and demand changes from Keene State. Poppenga says she wants accountability from the college’s administration for what happened, a zero tolerance policy for racism and discrimination on campus, and the creation of a volunteer-based student support system. (Because of COVID restrictions, the demonstration is not open to the public). 

Poppenga says Keene State emphasizes community as one of its core values, but from her personal experience, when students bring up difficult experiences to campus officials, there’s no follow up. 

“Students end up feeling like they're being suppressed or like their voices just aren't really being listened to, which is weird considering that our school has such a focus on community and everyone having a place here,” she said.  

Badiane says since she first went public with what happened in January, students and alumni have continued to reach out to her, not just to express support but to share their own stories of interacting with Keene Police, or trying to bring their concerns to the college’s administration. 

All four New Hampshire chapters of Black Lives Matter have also published a letter in support of Clavelle and Badiane. In addition to presenting a list of demands similar to what faculty and staff put forward, the groups have also asked for President Treadwell’s resignation. 

“Khady, Tyler and the rest of the Keene State College community can only begin to heal if there is swift action and accountability,” the groups wrote. 

Clavelle says, even with all the efforts Keene State College has proposed, deeper change is needed. 

“I know it got to the point where I told them, like, there's no reason they should be trying to recruit minorities to come to their school in this community as it is right now. What does that serve them? All it does is serve you, boost your statistics,” he said.  

The couple ultimately agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors on Feb. 18, and accepted a violation level offense for resisting arrest. The assault and trespassing charges were dropped. 

Clavelle and Badiane say they wanted to fight those charges in court, but because Badiane holds a green card, they worried that losing the case could jeopardize her immigration status.

But the couple says they are planning on suing the college, and they say they have not heard directly from President Treadwell since they first went public with what happened.  

More than 250 people have donated to close to $7,000 to the couple’s Go-fund-me request for legal fees.