Students occupy Parkhurst, demand response to 'Freedom Budget'

by Sean Connolly | 4/1/14 7:49pm

by Annie Ma and Annie Ma / The Dartmouth

A group of about 35 students from a range of campus communities entered College President Phil Hanlon’s office during his open office hours on Tuesday, stating their dissatisfaction to the administration’s March 6 reaction to the “Freedom Budget.” They demanded a point-by-point response to each of the student-authored document’s 70-plus demands for change regarding issues of diversity and inclusivity.

Equipped with poster paper, sleeping bags and pizza, many students displayed the intention of spending the night. As of press time, about eight students planned to remain in Hanlon’s personal office overnight and about seven others intended to stay in the outer atrium of Parkhurst Hall.

As students filed in to Hanlon’s outer office around 4 p.m., they were greeted by administrative assistants, who noted that they had been expecting them. Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson then told the students that she and Hanlon would be available to talk in a few minutes.

When Johnson asked why the group was there, Dondei Dean ’17 spoke first.

“We’re here to see President Hanlon. You probably know most of us already, but, just to sum up, we are extremely dissatisfied with the response that he issued,” Dean said. “It was not on our terms. We are here to see him and demand a point-by-point response, and we are not going to leave until we get one.”

Approximately 10 minutes later, the entire group was invited into Hanlon’s office. Dean, acting as primary spokesperson, told the president that the students were “deeply enraged” by Hanlon’s response to the “Freedom Budget,” stating dissatisfaction with both the length of the administration’s press release, which they said encompassed only three points, and their choice not to respond through The Dartmouth.

Lindsay Ellis ’15, The Dartmouth’s editor-in-chief, said in an interview that administrators initially sent their response to The Dartmouth during the paper’s last night of winter production, but that she did not believe the opinion pages, where community members argue their positions on college issues, were an appropriate format for the administrators’ statement.

After noting her dissatisfaction, Dean said the students had brought a reformatted copy of the Freedom Budget with individual checkboxes for Hanlon to indicate whether or not he agreed with each demand.

“This is not a conversation,” Hanlon said, pointing to the sheet he had been given. “I would rather sit down and discuss with you and the whole campus what are the solutions.”

Dean said the group does not speak for campus but that they are “people whose opinions do matter” and that the College did not take their claims seriously. When Hanlon said that the recent tuition increase was the smallest since 1977, Dean replied, “President Hanlon, you guys just renovated the bleachers.”

Asked why he could not act independently and immediately on the Freedom Budget, Hanlon said that he did not make every decision at the College. If he responded unilaterally, he would overstep the roles of his administrators, Hanlon said. He added that he would identify administrators who could respond to each point.

After stepping out briefly, Johnson and Hanlon returned to the room with a proposal to commission an external survey of campus climate.

Johnson said administrators cannot “control the hearts and minds of this campus” but agreed to proceed with the survey to determine future action.

Several students who were not part of the original group then arrived and began to voice their concerns. Undergraduate student Scott Mitchell, who came to the sit-in after seeing the live feed video posted online by The Dartmouth Radical, said he disagreed with the students’ tactics.

“This is not something that’s a top-down decision,” he said. “This is not something that President Hanlon says something and the culture changes. Right now you’re ridiculing President Hanlon to his face. This is not how you make change.”

Hanlon exited his office at 5:15 p.m., after about 45 minutes of discussion. As he stood to leave, a student asked for his thoughts on racism.

“I will say a thousand times. I am opposed to bias of any kind,” he said. “Racism, homophobia, gender-based violence — I am opposed to all of those things.”

Johnson remained to answer questions until about 6 p.m.

Several minutes later, Safety and Security director Harry Kinne entered the room and urged students to leave Hanlon’s personal office. Remaining in the president’s inner office would be considered trespassing, a violation of College policy, he said, and students could be arrested. Those who wished to remain in the building as an act of protest, he said, could stay in the atrium for the night.

Safety and Security officers would be posted outside the main doors of the building to prevent additional students from entering, Kinne said, asking those who wished to remain in the inner office to write down their names for potential disciplinary purposes.

Christine Miguel ’14, who arrived with the original group of students, remained on the steps of Parkhurst Hall, holding a banner that read, “Meet our demands.”

“I’m sure there will be more tomorrow, and the day after that and the day after that,” Miguel said.

Last month, Hanlon and Interim Provost Martin Wybourne released a statement outlining their plans for increasing diversity at the College, including changes to financial aid and programs to bring “diverse perspectives” to campus.

“Recently, a presentation of the ‘Freedom Budget’ document highlighted for us that we, as the administration, must engage the campus more effectively in current and future action to achieve our shared vision for Dartmouth,” the statement read.

The “Freedom Budget” demands that the College increase enrollment of black, Latino and Latina and Native American students to at least 10 percent each and increase the number of faculty and staff of color across departments. Other proposals include banning the Indian mascot, providing pro-bono legal and financial assistance to undocumented students and expanding gender-neutral housing and bathrooms on campus. The document also demands that residential life spaces on campus be accessible to all students.

No public announcement preceded the sit-in. Students unaffiliated with the demonstrators said that they found out about the demonstration via word-of-mouth and an email from The Dartmouth Radical sent to campus once students were inside Parkhurst.

“Our bodies are already on the line, in danger and under attack at Dartmouth,” the email read. “We are now using them to occupy the president’s office until he accords us the basic respect of serious, point-by-point, actionable response.”

Michael Qian contributed reporting to this article.

For footage of the sit-in, see Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV and Part V.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!