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The Dartmouth
May 30, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Verbum Ultimum: Drop the Charges

The Beilock administration should drop all charges against the student protestors arrested last weekend.

The arrests of student protestors Kevin Engel ’27 and Roan V. Wade ’25 sent campus into disarray this week, bringing questions about free speech and administrative transparency to the forefront of campus discourse. Regardless of how one feels about the protestors’ views or methods, for the sake of preserving free speech and maintaining a healthy College community, the administration should not press charges or take further disciplinary action against those arrested.

With the benefit of a week’s worth of perspective and further context on the arrests provided by Dartmouth Student Government, it has become clear that the protestors had no malicious or violent intent. At the time, the Beilock administration argued that the Dartmouth New Deal’s statement of “physical action” constituted a threat. However, their later clarifications of the phrase’s context and history in Dartmouth’s 2014 Freedom Budget show that their intentions were demonstrably nonviolent and exemplified peaceful protest. While we agree with the College that threats of violence are not acceptable, it is now clear that the protestors were committed to nonviolent civil disobedience.

The right to peaceful protest and civil dissent is essential to freedom of speech; now that we know the students had no ill-intent, it is important that the College does not pursue further punishment. Fostering a campus environment where all students feel safe in organizing demonstrations against College policy is of paramount importance to a liberal arts education, which requires students to critically engage with the world around them both in and out of the classroom. Although we recognize that the College had a legal right to pursue legal action against the protesters, pressing charges against peaceful protesters threatens to make students feel unsafe when openly expressing views against the College. Pressing charges or taking disciplinary action would set a dangerous precedent for the handling of similar events in the future, making it easier for the administration to default to force instead of dialogue when placed in complicated or uncomfortable situations with protestors.

Dropping the charges is also the best way to begin healing the damaged relationship between the administration and students and to move forward from the recent arrests as a campus. Members of this Editorial Board have witnessed firsthand the deep divisions that the recent arrests have wrought on campus, leaving many students with a deep distrust of the administration. Nearly 50 campus organizations and over 600 individuals — including alumni, faculty and students — signed a petition condemning the arrests and demanding an apology from the administration. These divisions threaten to permanently strain President Beilock’s relationship with students unless there is a gesture of goodwill on her part to ease these tensions. Dropping the charges is the olive branch that the College needs at this moment.

Regardless of whether the College still believes it was justified in arresting the protestors, it is essential now for charges to be dropped against them. Even if one believes that there was a credible justification for their arrest given the uncertainty of the events as they unfolded, given the information and perspective we have now, the College has an opportunity to make the responsible choice to heal campus wounds and ensure that future students feel safe voicing dissent. The Beilock administration must work with the Hanover Police Department to ensure no charges are pressed against Engel and Wade and should refrain from pursuing any disciplinary action against them.

The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.