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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Alsheikh: Dartmouth Dialogues Is Not Enough

The College administration needs to openly acknowledge the mistakes it made after Oct. 7 and take direct action to move forward, far beyond the limited scope of Dartmouth Dialogues.

Last term, we were unfortunate enough to live through a major event in world history. Breaking out less than a month after President Sian Leah Beilock’s inauguration, the war between Israel and Gaza was the first test of Beilock’s nascent administration — a test which it failed. A series of mistakes from the administration following Oct. 7 have inflamed campus tensions and endangered students’ freedom of speech. The administration’s arrest of student protestors and its treatment of the Muslim and Palestinian communities have harmed many students, including myself, and my faith in the administration has sunk to an all-time low.

Given this context, the newly-announced Dartmouth Dialogues is a bandaid on a bullet wound. Consisting of a Middle East special topic series, digital webinars and workshops, some guest speakers and a partnership with a podcast company, it does nothing to acknowledge or directly address the failures of the administration from last term. Though certain sections of it are positive developments, by itself it is wholly inadequate to heal campus after the events of Oct. 7 — moving forward can only be accomplished by honest and direct action.

To that end, I suggest that the administration first publicly acknowledge its mistakes from the fall, work to drop the charges against the arrested protestors, take steps to reconcile with the Muslim and Palestinian student communities and fundamentally change how it handles controversy and dialogue going forward. The newly-announced Dartmouth Dialogues project may be a starting point for these changes, but it is not enough — the administration will need to take open accountability for where it went wrong after Oct. 7 and directly rectify those mistakes. 

The first step for the administration is to publicly and openly acknowledge that it was wrong to arrest the student protestors last term. Currently, the administration has refused to recognize that it mistakenly accused non-violent student protestors of threatening violence. Despite later evidence provided by Dartmouth Student Government showing that the arrested students engaged in “nonviolent civil disobedience,” the Beilock administration refused to drop the charges against the arrested students or even to acknowledge that it wrongly accused them of threatening violence. 

Although President Beilock claimed in her email that she hopes “every member of our community feels comfortable expressing unpopular views and questioning others who hold beliefs with which they disagree,” as it stands, she has arrested students for disagreeing and protesting her policies. This mistake alone may ruin the effectiveness of Dartmouth Dialogues or any similar initiative if it is not addressed moving forward. How can the administration expect students to take its initiatives seriously if it does not resolve the fact that it arrested two students in the process of engaging in dialogue? 

Not only should the Beilock administration acknowledge that it mistakenly accused its students of threatening violence, but it must also commit to doing everything in its power to get the students’ charges dropped and lift their disciplinary probation status, just as Brown University recently did after 20 students were arrested at a sit-in at an administrative hall. Doing so would send a signal to campus that the administration is committed to freedom of expression and prioritizes the wellbeing of its students over promoting a flashy new initiative.

Furthermore, in regards to Muslim and Palestinian students, the administration has taken no steps to reconcile these student communities, which were left alienated by Beilock's absence from the vigil organized by Al-Nur and the Palestine Solidarity Coalition and her administration’s public silence after the shooting of three Palestinian students in nearby Burlington, Vt. As it stands, these student communities may be permanently alienated from the college community unless the administration acknowledges its mistakes from last term and over winterim. These communities need more than just a general dialogue initiative — they need the administration’s direct attention and support. 

As a first step, the administration should commit to uplifting Muslim and Palestinian voices and making its communities more visible. Whether via Vox Daily, the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine or the official Dartmouth News website, articles designed to spotlight student communities — such as the Dartmouth News coverage of the vigil on the Green for Israel — are an easy way to support student communities as they navigate difficult situations. So far, Muslim and Palestinian students have not received this spotlight, despite their important place on campus and their vulnerability as a community. Especially in light of the recent shooting of Palestinian students in Burlington, Vt., it is essential that the administration fixes this lack of visibility moving forward. 

Dartmouth Dialogues may be a small step forward in that direction, but it is not enough. Without a renewed focus and public commitment to serving Muslim and Palestinian students, the administration may never rebuild its relationship with these communities. The introduction of two new classes taught by Palestinian professors — Omar Dajani and Sayed Kashua — is certainly promising. Yet, unless Palestinian voices become a permanent, stable feature of Dartmouth’s academic discourse, any initiative will fail to create meaningful, long-term change. No amount of webinars or online videos, such as the kind Dartmouth Dialogues is advertising, will magically fix the marginalization of Palestinian students on this campus. 

All things considered, if Dartmouth has fared better than other universities after Oct. 7, it is certainly not thanks to the administration. As Yasmine Abouali put it at the Secretary of Education’s visit, “it’s Dartmouth students that make the place special,” not the administration. Moving forward, it is essential that the administration addresses its failures with direct action and honest accountability — not with a handful of webinars and guest speakers. If the Beilock administration is to recover from its horrible first impression, it is essential that it recommits meaningfully to serving students and campus at large. 

To do that, the administration must confront its mistakes instead of hiding behind a fancy new initiative. A paradigm shift in how the administration handles controversy and dialogue is desperately needed. Dartmouth Dialogues is not enough.

Ramsey Alsheikh is the president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition at Dartmouth. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.