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The Dartmouth
April 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Student support for hunger strikers increases amidst administrative pushback

College officials, such as Dean of the College Scott Brown and DoSS Director Keiselim Montás, spoke with the strikers about their demands and a potential violation of College policy.

Updated (Feb. 23, 2:04 p.m.): This article has been updated to include a statement from College spokesperson Jana Barnello regarding a meeting between the administration and the hunger strikers.

On Feb. 19, eight students declared a hunger strike to protest the Dartmouth administration’s response to the war in Gaza. Hunger striker Calvin George ’24 said this lack of cooperation led the students to hunger strike.

“We’ve been doing rallies, we’ve been signing petitions, we’ve been sending emails, making phone calls and doing everything we can within our power to try and make change,” George said. “It has become very clear that the administration is not willing to engage with us on any front, so … we are going to force them to listen to us by putting our bodies on the line.” 

Fellow hunger striker and Palestine Solidarity Coalition president Ramsey Alsheikh ’26 expressed similar disappointment with the lack of administrative cooperation.

“The only way that we could even have a chance of getting them to address our concerns and acknowledge them would be to put our physical well-being on the line,” Alsheikh said.

On Feb. 20, Dean of the College Scott Brown approached the strikers at the study-in hosted by the PSC at Reiss Hall. According to Kevin Engel ’27, Brown said that the College has received their list of demands, but that they will not respond.

“[Brown] then went on to say that the College is concerned about our safety and our physical well-being, so they’re positioning themselves … where they aren’t liable if anything happens because they are offering medical support,” Engel said. 

Engel called Brown’s actions “performative” in nature. 

“It has just become so clear that our safety is not a priority of the administration,” Alsheikh said. “They just want to look good and try to make this go away.” 

Brown did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication. 

Engel said that if the College “cared” about student safety, they would acknowledge the existence of Palestinian students and not pursue criminal charges against himself or fellow protestor Roan V. Wade ’25. 

“The [administration’s] email statements to every student and every student’s parents calling us violent exposed us to a lot of harassment,” Engel said. 

George said that on Feb. 20, Department of Safety and Security director Keiselim Montás also approached the strikers at the study-in. George referred to his approach as “hostile.” 

According to George, Montás said that the pro-Palestinian signs surrounding the study-in space violated a College policy regarding displays in the library. Engel said that Montás refused to provide the exact policy that was allegedly being violated. 

Ashley Laveriano ’24  — who was present at the time — said that Montás’s arrival was “disrupting” to all the students in Reiss Hall, both the protesters and others separate from the event.

“Students don’t want to feel like they are under surveillance for spreading awareness, which is what [the] PSC wants to do in Blobby,” Laveriano said. 

Engel said that Montás has a “bias” against him because Montás was present during Engel’s arrest. 

“He described me as being difficult and uncooperative for asking questions,” Engel said. “He refused to respond to my questions, which I felt was very inappropriate and definitely informed by the fact that he was there that night I got arrested and that he is testifying against me in court next week.” 

Montás did not respond to requests for comment by time of publication.

Alsheikh also noted the “irony” between the College’s treatment of student protesters and the Dartmouth Dialogue Project. 

“It’s really disheartening that the administration won’t engage in a dialogue with us, especially because President Beilock has been saying that dialogue is so important to her,” George said. 

Laveriano said that the Beilock administration lacks the “courage” to respond to the student protestors. The hunger strikers and student activists said that the incidents with Brown and Montás are evidence of the administration’s insensitivity to student voices. 

The hunger strikers said they drew inspiration from Dartmouth student protests against South African apartheid in the 1980s and more recent hunger strikes conducted at peer institutions such as Brown University. The hunger strikers compared the 1980s call to divest from South African apartheid to the present-day call for divestment from the “Israeli apartheid.”

“[Hunger strikes are] an action that is rooted in bodily autonomy, so we decided that would be a suitable option, given the circumstances of what is going on,” Engel said. “There are a lot of Palestinians who are starving to death.” 

George said that the administration’s removal of the Parkhurst tent in the fall indicates a “shift” in College administration policy to “silence student activism.” 

According to the strikers, they have felt a surge in student support for their actions and greater involvement in pro-Palestinian activity on campus. 

“You’ve probably seen all the chalk on campus,” Alsheikh said. “That’s not the strikers — it is everyone around us who is supporting us.”

However, Alsheikh said the hunger strikers have also received hate messages online. 

“We’ve only just started to get all the hate messages online, but I’m really inspired seeing everyone come together including the faculty and students to support the hunger strikers,” Alsheikh said. 

PSC members also noted an increase in student support and participation since the hunger strike declaration. According to George, up to dozens of students have attended these study-ins. 

Laveriano — who has attended the study-ins — expressed her support for the hunger strikers and the increasing involvement in pro-Palestinian activism on campus. 

“Based on how the President has been actively choosing to ignore the students who care enough to be advocates and allies, the strikers have a lot of guts,” Laveriano said. “The fact that they are still forward facing … is very commendable.” 

While students have expressed their support for the hunger strikers, the administration has not responded to the letter. 

“The hunger strike is really a new stage … it’s not something which can be taken lightly, and it’s not something which people can ignore,” Alsheikh said. “This is not something which is just limited to campus and is something which has national implications at a school like Dartmouth, which is so frequently a national spotlight for big campus events.” 

When asked about what will happen if the administration remains unresponsive through the winter term, all interviewed strikers had the same response: “We’ll starve.” 

In an email statement, College spokesperson Jana Barnello wrote that the hunger strikers "were invited to a meeting with administrators."

"That note went out on Thursday morning [Feb. 22] inviting them to discuss their concerns with the goal of having an open and productive dialogue," Barnello wrote.

Ramsey Alsheikh ’26 is an Opinion staff columnist for The Dartmouth.