Dartmouth administration faces fierce criticism over protest arrests

Dozens of students and community members gather for an “Endowment is Political” rally on Dartmouth’s Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Student organizers announced at the end of the rally that they plan to establish a second “Brave Space” on the Baker Lawn, which in compliance with campus policies will not involve tents or amplification, where students will camp out from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dozens of students and community members gather for an “Endowment is Political” rally on Dartmouth’s Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Student organizers announced at the end of the rally that they plan to establish a second “Brave Space” on the Baker Lawn, which in compliance with campus policies will not involve tents or amplification, where students will camp out from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

Three Dartmouth students who declined to give their names set up a “Liberation Library” at the end of an “Endowment is Political” rally on Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Student organizers plan to hold teach-ins and community-building events in the space, which they will occupy daily. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Three Dartmouth students who declined to give their names set up a “Liberation Library” at the end of an “Endowment is Political” rally on Baker Lawn in Hanover, N.H., on Tuesday, May 7, 2024. Student organizers plan to hold teach-ins and community-building events in the space, which they will occupy daily. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / Report For America — Alex Driehaus

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-07-2024 8:16 PM

HANOVER — Dartmouth President Sian Beilock and college administrators faced pointed criticism at a meeting with faculty on Monday regarding the arrest of 89 students, staff, faculty and community members by police in riot gear at a protest on the college Green last Wednesday night.

Beilock’s attempt to quell unrest in the name of safety had done more harm that good and further divided an already fractious campus, her critics said.

“President Beilock, you say you called Hanover PD for help and thereafter you claimed you have no control over how the PD took it from there. But that’s not true,” Will Cheng, chairman of the Dartmouth Music Department, said in the Monday afternoon Zoom meeting. “That night you could have chosen to step out of (the administrative building) at any moment to stop the arrests and to seek peaceful resolution.”

Beilock’s office is across the street from where the arrests occurred.

“No one was safe the second militarized police descended on campus,” Cheng added. “Irrespective of what you or I believe, our community is plainly shattered.”

Within two hours of a handful of tents being erected on the Green at the May 1 demonstration, a swarm of Upper Valley law enforcement and state troopers made mass arrests, largely on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing based on a complaint that was lodged by the college. Those detained included two student journalists and two faculty members — Annelise Orleck, a history professor, and Christopher MacEvitt, a professor of religion.

MacEvitt noted at the Monday meeting that he was “arrested and charged with trespassing in the course of fulfilling my duties as a house professor,” referring to his position as a leader in the college’s undergraduate residential advising system.

On Tuesday evening, a group of about 100 demonstrators gathered on the lawn in front of Baker-Berry Library, in solidarity with those arrested who are now banned from the Green. They announced the creation of what they are calling “the second brave space,” riffing off of a term Beilock has used when talking about campus dialogue.

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Programming like faculty “teach-in” events around Palestinian activism that were planned for the now dramatically dismantled encampment will proceed at the new gathering spot — at which, in accordance with college policy, there will be no tents or amplified sound, said freshman Kevin Engel.

“We feel strongly that we’re abiding by policy not because we feel the policy is right, but because we need to protect our own,” Engel said, adding that he believes the policy against encampments is there largely to stymie student speech. The new location will allow protesters to “continue what we had planned for the encampment,” he said.

Engel was one of two students arrested for demonstrating in front of Beilock’s office in late October.

In the immediate aftermath of last week’s arrests, Dartmouth administrators put out statements describing the arrests as the natural consequence of the demonstrators’ refusal to disperse.

But yesterday brought a more conciliatory tone. In an open letter published by the school’s independent student-run newspaper The Dartmouth, Beilock apologized for the harm her decision to involve police had caused, while still maintaining she did so to keep the campus free of the conflict and disruptions seen at some other schools where protest encampments have occurred.

“No one, including me, wanted to see heavily armed police officers in the heart of our campus,” she wrote. “Nor did we want any members of our community to be arrested. … Encampments on other campuses incited violent anger, horribly divided student bodies, created exclusionary zones and attracted outside agitators.

“Unfortunately, my attempt to keep all of those on our campus safe made some people feel unsafe. As I have said, actions have consequences. I accept responsibility for that, and I am sorry for the harm this impossible decision has caused.”

In the days after the 89 arrests, a petition circulated among faculty and garnered 200 signatures from faculty. It called for a meeting with Beilock “to address the administration’s “use of excessive force” and “demand the immediate lifting of any total or partial campus bans, unjust academic consequences, and legal charges” for any arrested students, faculty and staff, as well as revisions to the college’s dissent policies.

Under the college’s bylaws, it takes 75 signatures to call such a meeting, where the faculty controls the agenda. The petitioners planned to hold their meeting on Monday. However, hours after the petition was submitted to college administrators last Friday, Beilock and Provost David Kotz called a meeting of their own for Monday afternoon.

“President Beilock is eager to hear your thoughts and learn from your ideas and advice,” Kotz wrote in an email announcing the meeting.

The email did not address the petitioned meeting or its particular demands.

On Monday, Beilock addressed a Zoom gathering of nearly 500 people to ensure that faculty and administration are “working off the same set of facts” regarding the timeline of events last Wednesday. The encampment at Dartmouth was “a charged situation,” she said, “and especially in the context of what was happening across the country.”

She stressed that she acted out of concern for safety and was concerned that the size of the protest could not be managed by Dartmouth’s security personnel, who are unarmed and do not have arrest powers.

“This is not abstract,” Beilock said, referring directly to violence as protesters clashed with counter protesters and police at encampments at UCLA and Columbia University.

Many attendees, however, emphasized the peaceful nature of the protest that occurred in the Upper Valley. Janice McCabe, an assistant professor of sociology, highlighted an email that organizers sent to administrators an hour before the encampment.

“This is an exclusively peaceful protest,” senior Calvin George wrote on behalf of the Dartmouth Gaza Solidarity Camp. “Violence, threat of violence, and discrimination of any kind will not be tolerated in the camp. All involved parties appreciate Dartmouth’s concern on this issue and want to cooperate to make sure that hate speech of any kind is unequivocally condemned.”

Kotz spoke up between faculty speakers, stating multiple times that it would be good to hear from “other sides.” Of the roughly two dozen faculty that addressed the Zoom, a small fraction defended Beilock’s decision to send law enforcement to the encampment.

“This is an extremely difficult situation,” said Tor Wager, a neuroscience professor. “I really believe (college leadership was) trying to do the right thing. I think that they deserve our support. When I think about this I think, if any of us were in her shoes making this decision at this time, there are safety risks we aren’t equipped for. What happens if people come in from outside with guns? Or there’s a bomb in a tent?”

One faculty member who supported Beilock compared the demonstrators to violent segregationists.

Professor of Hebew Studies Lewis Glinert said, “there is another, whole group of students who feel a lot safer because of what President Beilock has done.”

“Dartmouth has not been the nice, friendly place for Jews that you imagine it has been,” Glinert said.

Earlier this year, “I realized to my horror that a Jewish member of the faculty was organizing to protest against Israeli policies outside the Lebanon court and I thought: ‘What on Earth is going on? Could this be happening in a university?’ ” he said.

“I’d like to ask you what you would feel like if the Ku Klux Klan came down chanting and singing peacefully without weapons,” Glinert continued. “You would be the first to go to the police.”

But Beilock’s critics were far more numerous.

Jonathan Zinman, a professor of economics, pointed to the “authorized use of Dartmouth property” in the mass arrests. The college approved the use of Dartmouth Outing Club vans in advance of the demonstration “to haul away arrested prot esters,” he said.

“Our stude nts, including student protesters, deserve better than the treatment they got,” Zinman said. “They deserve the benefit of the doubt from us as an institution, especially when they clearly communicate their intention to protest peacefully up front. They deserve education from us, not violent and legalistic escalation.”

In an open letter published on Monday, Dartmouth Student Government, or DSG, called upon Beilock to “ask the Grafton County Attorney’s Office to dismiss all criminal charges against those arrested.”

In message on Tuesday, Beilock did call for some of the charges to be dropped, but only against a handful of those arrested.

She said the two student journalist for the The Dartmouth who were taken into custody “should not have been arrested for doing their jobs. We are working with local authorities to ensure this error is corrected. ”

Beilock also wrote that the college was “working to ensure that anyone who was inadvertently swept up in the chaos on the Green, but not in violation of any Dartmouth policy, suffers no consequence.” It’s not clear how many people that could affect.

Also on Monday, a DSG “vote of no confidence” regarding Beilock’s leadership failed narrowly in a closed-door session, after its passage in a public meeting was vetoed by student body president Jessica Chiriboga.

The organization has planned a student-wide referendum vote on Beilock’s leadership for Thursday morning.

The Hanover Police Department issued a statement on Tuesday stating that members of the department “remain committed to protecting the constitutional rights and safety of all individuals while responding with professionalism to actions that may violate the law or threaten public safety.”

The statement referred to 89 arrests, rather than the 90 arrests identified by the department immediately after the protest. The department has said it was a miscount on their behalf.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.