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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Allen: A Pathetic Waste of Brave Space

Former opinion editor Spencer Allen ’23 condemns the arrests of 90 people at the Gaza Solidarity Encampment and urges College President Sian Leah Beilock and the College to listen to their community.

In September 2022, following the summertime announcement that College President Sian Leah Beilock would become Dartmouth’s new president, I was a member of the editorial board that congratulated and welcomed Beilock on behalf of this paper. In our editorial, we hoped that Beilock would “steer Dartmouth into a new direction” by using her diverse leadership and academic experience — including her research on “choking under pressure” — to bring new life to Dartmouth and heal a divided College.

By my assessment, she has failed miserably: Beilock is now Dartmouth’s collective laughing stock after she choked under the pressure of five tents at a peaceful pro-Palestinian encampment on the Green and allowed 90 individuals — including two reporters from The Dartmouth — to be arrested Wednesday night, according to live coverage from The Dartmouth.

In an email sent to the Dartmouth community Thursday morning, Beilock wrote that Dartmouth policies “prohibit encampments or the occupation of buildings that interfere with the academic mission or increase safety risks to members of our community.” What I and many others are struggling to understand, however, is how the encampment — which started at 6:30 p.m., when the last block of classes began — meaningfully interfered with campus operations. Nor was the protest a threat to physical safety on campus — not, at least, until the cops were called. No one seems to be claiming the protest was as violent as other recent protests across the country allegedly have been, including at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles. What’s more, there are countless violations of Dartmouth policy that happen every single day — underage drinking, hard alcohol and the Seven, to name a few — that do not elicit such a dramatic response.

This is of course not the first time that Beilock has ordered pro-Palestinian protesters at Dartmouth to be arrested for their peaceful demonstrations. Her pattern of behavior suggests that Beilock’s “brave spaces” initiative is nothing more than a ruse, and my read on the current student body — from conversations with friends and at least one op-ed — suggests that many students are fed up with the hypocrisy of the initiative. Simply put, in her efforts to smooth over the ideological edges of the Dartmouth community, Beilock has instead scratched and dented the community even further.

What Beilock and the College do not understand right now is that these arrests did not need to happen. Negotiations between protesters and College administrators at other universities across the country — including our Ivy League peer Brown University — ended successfully after both parties came to an agreement to set up conversations between student protesters and those involved in endowment investments. This happened at other schools in spite of the excuse from Beilock’s email that “using [the endowment] to take sides on such a contested issue is an extraordinarily dangerous precedent to set.”

I recognize that the ongoing conflict in Gaza is a hotly contested issue across the country. That said, the administration’s handling of the Wednesday night protest was despicable in a way that transcends ideological sides on this issue. This was not a situation where Dartmouth chose to fight fire with fire. Instead, the College called in police backup, effectively bringing flamethrowers to light birthday candles. While the events of Wednesday night were harrowing to see, my heart is warmed by the countless alumni, faculty and community members who are calling Dartmouth out for its dramatic overreaction.

Beilock’s tumultuous 11-month tenure has been one hell of a fall from grace from the throngs of students celebrating the change we hoped she would bring to the role. While there is certainly no obvious right way to handle such political turmoil as a college administrator, there are clearly many wrong ways to go about it, and Beilock’s actions Wednesday night will go down as one such example. There is no easy way to rectify the distress and disruption that 90 arrests caused to many peaceful students, faculty and community members. Of course, calling for the charges against the protesters — including two student journalists — to be dropped is a great place to start. What else? Get out from behind whatever brave space hurts your feelings the least and listen to your people, Beilock.

Spencer Allen is a member of the Class of 2023 and a former opinion editor and Editorial Board member for The Dartmouth. Opinion articles represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.