Jim Kenyon: Dartmouth shows no signs of relenting after crackdown on demonstrators

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth College's Hanover, N.H., campus is seen from the air on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth College's Hanover, N.H., campus is seen from the air on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017. (Valley News - Charles Hatcher) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Charles Hatcher

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 11-25-2023 1:27 PM

Modified: 11-28-2023 1:36 PM


It was bad enough that Dartmouth College President Sian Leah Beilock and her administration overreacted by having Hanover police arrest two students who were peacefully protesting on the lawn outside her office last month.

Now it appears the administration supports moving forward with the criminal cases against Kevin Engel and Roan Wade, who were arrested for criminal trespassing. Engel, a freshman, and Wade, a junior, are scheduled to be arraigned in Lebanon District Court on Dec. 18.

When they were arrested at 1 a.m. on Oct. 28, Engel and Wade were occupying a camping tent outside Parkhurst Hall as part of an effort by a student group called Dartmouth Sunrise to raise campus awareness about the war in Gaza.

“We were completely peaceful the entire night,” Engel told me. “Anyone who voices their opinion or pushes back against the administration runs the risk of police intervention. It’s very chilling.”

Misdemeanor cases involving harmless activity are a waste of taxpayers’ money and the court’s time. But that doesn’t matter to Dartmouth. The Beilock administration wants to send a message to students that exercising their constitutional rights could prove costly.

Dartmouth officials maintain that Hanover cops were only called in after Engel and Wade refused to leave the tent, which they had sat in for six hours.

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Dartmouth is using its policy on “freedom of expression and dissent” to muzzle its own students. Under the policy, the private college can “place limitations on the time, place and manner” of demonstrations.

At Dartmouth, it seems dissent is permissible only from 9-to-5 in locations of the college’s choosing.

For their alleged misconduct, Engel and Wade have already gone before the college’s Committee on Standards, which is a fancy name for a kangaroo court. Following the 30-minute Zoom administrative hearing in which they weren’t allowed to have a lawyer, Engel and Wade said they were placed on probation for two academic terms. In other words, if during that time they try again to exercise “freedom of expression and dissent” in a manner the college disapproves of, they’re goners.

I suspect the college expected the criminal case to work along the same lines. The students would plead guilty, pay a fine and move on with their lives.

That’s not happening.

Kira Kelley, an attorney with the Climate Defense Project, a nonprofit based in Minneapolis, is representing both students. Kelley, who grew up in Hartland and graduated from Hanover High School in 2011, told me in an email that she couldn’t say much about the case beyond “my clients were arrested for trespassing on their own campus.”

Enough said.

Prosecutor Mariana Pastore, who handles misdemeanor cases for Hanover police, has until Dec. 4 to file charges. Since prosecutors have discretionary power to drop cases, I asked Pastore if she had decided what to do about Engel and Wade. She declined to comment.

If Dartmouth officials wanted to do what’s best for their students, they’d let the prosecutor know that they’re not interested in taking the cases any further.

Dartmouth won’t comment on an “ongoing legal matter,” spokeswoman Diana Lawrence replied in an email to my questions last week about whether the Beilock administration wants to keep the cases going.

Dropping the matter could work to the college’s benefit. Beilock and her minions can’t be looking forward to testifying in open court on why they had two students arrested for sitting in a tent.

Student government leaders were spot on when they called out the administration for failing to exercise “better discretion when student protesters engaged in non-violent civil disobedience.”

I’m not sure Beilock wants to brag about it on X, formerly known as Twitter, but she has the backing of The Dartmouth Review, the college’s conservative newspaper. Under the headline, “Bravo, President Beilock,” the Review applauded the administration for its response to “threats of violence.”

At least that’s how Beilock’s administration is trying to spin it. In an Oct. 28 statement, Beilock said that some of Sunrise Dartmouth’s writings indicated the group was threatening “physical action.”

Considering the students were unarmed, describing them as a safety threat was far-fetched. But it gave Beilock cover.

Last week, I talked with Engel and Wade, who are leaders in Dartmouth’s chapter of the national Sunrise Movement, which consists largely of young climate activists.

“We can’t be for justice and not stand up for Palestine,” said Wade, pointing out the lack of safe drinking water in Gaza is an environmental issue.

Engel and Wade told me they met with Beilock for 30 minutes across the street from Parkhurst last Monday. (As a condition of their bail, the college wanted the students barred from Parkhurst).

Did Beilock use the meeting to acknowledge the college had gone too far with the arrests?

Far from it.

“She doubled down,” Wade said. “She told us the college wouldn’t do anything to drop the charges.”

“She views her actions as justifiable,” Engel added.

It’s a good thing that Kelley is helping Engel and Wade. They come from low-income backgrounds and rely on financial aid packages to cover Dartmouth’s $85,000 annual price tag. They support themselves by working on- and-off-campus jobs.

They can’t afford to pay for a lawyer.

Which I imagine Dartmouth was counting on when it had them hauled away in handcuffs.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.