After meeting with College officials and protesters, we released the following statement as Student Body President and Vice President to provide more information to the student body about the arrest of two students on misdemeanor charges of criminal trespassing on Oct. 28, 2023. Our full statement has been slightly edited for length.
On Oct. 28, two students were arrested on charges of criminal trespassing, not criminal threatening, or threats of violence. Student protesters were told starting Friday, Oct. 20 that temporary structures, including camping tents, were prohibited per the Use of the College Green and Campus Grounds Policy. However, according to some student protesters, the College failed to provide a clear explanation of this policy when student protesters explained that their camping tents were a symbolic structure inspired by the Student Shantytown Protests in the 1980s. Other student protesters shared that they did not receive notice of what College policy they were violating.
Shortly after student protesters placed and entered camping tents on the lawn of Parkhurst Hall on Friday evening, Oct. 27, student protesters were told they faced the possibility of arrest for the camping tents. Student protesters were informed of this possibility of arrest by College officials prior to those College officials reviewing the written document entitled the Dartmouth New Deal, which mentioned “physical action” as cited in President Sian Beilock’s email to campus on Oct. 28.
As shared in our statement to campus on Oct. 28 and stated in President Beilock’s email, “College leadership spent more than six hours working with students to de-escalate the situation and find common ground.” The College offered protesters a private meeting with President Beilock, while student protesters stated that the meeting was for an unspecified future date. Student protesters felt frustrated that President Beilock would not commit to releasing a public statement indicating she reviewed the Dartmouth New Deal.
Student protesters were told on Thursday, Oct. 19 that the lawn of Parkhurst Hall is not a reservable space. At 6 a.m. the next day, Conferences and Events provided more context to this restriction, including that the College requires advanced notice, a detailed itinerary, and no activity during night hours, among other stipulations. Later, the Office of Student Life and the Department of Safety and Security offered outdoor permits to alternative locations — such as the Collis Center and the corner of Main Street and Wheelock Street — for students to exercise their freedom of expression and dissent. Student protesters did not accept this, seeking to connect their ongoing protests to the legacy of nonviolent civil disobedience at Parkhurst Hall against the Vietnam War, apartheid in South Africa and racial discrimination.
The College is within its right to restrict access to College spaces and grounds. At the same time, freedom of expression and dissent is robustly protected at Dartmouth College, as academia values the “vigorous and open debate of ideas.” A few student protesters were provided paper copies of the College’s Freedom of Expression and Dissent Policy on at least one occasion, but student protesters felt that College policies were being inconsistently and punitively enforced. In particular, it was unclear to student protesters how and why the two College policies cited in our earlier statement invoked the “disorderly obstruction” condition in the College’s Freedom of Expression and Dissent Policy.
The College’s Freedom of Expression and Dissent Policy states that “Freedom of expression and dissent is protected by Dartmouth regulations. Dartmouth prizes and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of the individual to make their own disclosures, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of the law and in responsibility for one's own actions […] Protest or demonstration shall not be discouraged so long as neither force nor the threat of force is used, and so long as the orderly processes of the institution are not deliberately obstructed.”
On Oct. 28, a group of student protesters, beyond the two who were arrested, delivered a list of demands entitled the “Dartmouth New Deal” to the doors of Parkhurst Hall and to every College official who spoke with them. From our conversations with all parties, the College’s initial rationale for a potential arrest was centered around the presence of camping tents — not the contents of the Dartmouth New Deal — with the Dartmouth New Deal not mentioned as a rationale to student protesters.
In President Beilock’s email, she stated that the two arrested students threatened in writing to take “physical action.” In the document, the larger group of student protesters stated, “By January 3rd, 2024 (the first day of the 2024 Winter Term), the Dartmouth administration needs to respond publicly to each item raised on this document with its exact commitment to each one of its demands […] If the Dartmouth administration does not respond by the indicated time, those who believe in freedom will be forced into physical action. As mentioned before, this proposal is not about interpersonal interactions but about restoring justice in an institution beset with a history of discriminatory and oppressive practices.”
Student protesters maintain that “physical action” meant continued nonviolent civil disobedience, firmly insisting on their nonviolent approach. Student protesters doubt that the administration should have immediately equated “physical action” to threats of violence, given that this exact language was previously used to refer to nonviolent civil disobedience at the College, namely in the 2014 Dartmouth Freedom Budget written by student activists at the time.
President Beilock shared on Oct. 28 that the College was concerned about the physical safety of its community members and perceived this language as “behavior that threatens the safety, security, or functioning of the institution, the safety and security of its members, or of others.” College officials were especially concerned, given the recent violence in the region and on college campuses.
However, we reiterate that the arrests were focused on criminal trespassing, not criminal threatening. College concerns about criminal threatening or threats of violence were not expressed to student protesters after student protesters delivered the Dartmouth New Deal. We understand that maintaining student safety is a complicated issue and that Dartmouth community members may reasonably disagree about the calculus involved in assessing risk.
Given the context of this situation and our conversations with College officials and student protesters, we believe the College should have shared its concerns about “physical action” prior to escalating the situation to arresting student protesters engaging in civil nonviolent disobedience. We are disheartened that this situation resulted in the arrest of two students and wish that continued dialogue between both parties could have resolved this situation.
Despite this, we remain committed to our advocacy and collaboration with President Beilock, staff and faculty on promoting “Brave Spaces” and nonviolent freedom of expression and dissent.
Jessica Chiriboga ’24 is Student Body President. Kiara Ortiz ’24 is Student Body Vice President. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.
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