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The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Lim: Another Way is Possible

Women’s, gender and sexuality studies professor Eng-Beng Lim urges the administration to drop all charges and consider another way of working with protesters.

I am writing to express my dismay at the militarized repression of student protesters against the genocide in Gaza, and at history professor Annelise Orleck’s brutalization by the riot police on May 1. Orleck co-chairs the women’s, gender and sexuality studies program where I am appointed. Her arrest and temporary ban from campus may be read as a collateral assault on the field and on women more generally.

It is not lost on anyone that women presidents are being targeted by politically motivated congressional hearings against universities, and there is very little room for error here. Unfortunately, the riot squad’s actions on our Green two nights ago have effectively ruined Dartmouth’s nationally recognized Dialogue Project, which College President Sian Leah Beilock has touted as a model for gracious and diverse campus conversations. In a widely circulating video of Annelise’s arrest, what everyone saw was an elderly Jewish woman tackled to the ground by a group of men armed beyond what the situation required. It has become an iconic moment, covered by the New York Times and late-night talk shows like Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The scary, militarized operation by the riot police and their carceral treatment of our faculty, students and Upper Valley community members suggests an end to dialogue and makes our already difficult work as educators that much harder. 

I cannot help but see the mistake of the swift and militarized crackdown as an allegory of a broader turn against women, queers, non-binary and trans people and other minorities on and beyond our campus. Using public safety or moral panics as a cover to assert the dominant order makes all of us less safe. Acting forcefully or preemptively due to discomfort, misunderstanding or paranoia is anti-intellectual. Should the police also be called just because our straight peers do not feel safe or comfortable around queers with dirty and militant manifestos? Can queers set up a tent on the Green to teach straight people what they stand for? Moreover, the lessons of sex panics, where compulsory hetero-moral politics are used to oppress, criminalize and discipline non-compliant queer subjects, weirdos and freaks, remind us that political pressure is often applied on a minoritized “other” at the first triggerable instance. To name one infamous example, the persecution of erotic communities that deviated from the postwar American dream became the “objects of federal witch hunts and purges” in the McCarthy trials. Moral panic, like the politicization of homosexual panic or straight discomfort, is a way to guard our supposedly safe, bucolic and brave spaces from “outsiders.” But whose safety is being protected? Nationally, transgender and nonbinary folx of color are disproportionately murdered or beaten up because they are said to make straight people uncomfortable. In spite of the fact that transgender people are literally unsafe in public spaces, lots of anti-trans bills, including a majority of 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills recently introduced in state legislatures, have targeted the transgender community. 

I fear that the turn to authoritarian measures rather than forgiveness and forbearance is a sign that the university’s corporatization is completing its alignment with cold professionalization, neoliberal cruelty and state policing. University rules and procedures are a feature of shared governance important for common, orderly functions, but they are not criminal law. No professor would ever call the police for a pedagogical issue in the classroom or a disagreement in the meeting room. Rather, the encampment and protest can and should be framed as a teachable moment.  

The College that we love is a site of critical inquiry and a place of reflection, reinvention and critique. Our students’ protest is a collective demand to invest in books, not bombs, and to engage in genuine dialogues about global equality. The protest also resonates as a national movement to end the use of excessive force against dissent and to stop punitive or retaliatory action against those who “do not belong.” Most of all, the disproportionate scale and show of force by the police in riot gear on campuses across the country is traumatizing to a generation of students. Using protest and encampment to fight for equality and justice is a time-honored American tradition from the 1960s to the present. I would hope that Beilock agrees that militarization and administrative fiat are bad for dialogue. 

As feminist, queer and trans-of-color scholars have shown, safety, security and dialogue can easily be weaponized against the precariat, voiceless and dispossessed, or those who do not have access, status or privilege. The crackdown on my beloved students and colleagues has made my experience on campus as a queer and Asian Americanist professor ever more painful. Among those charged are many student leaders in the Dartmouth Asian American Student Collective as well as their brave and remarkable peers. They were arrested for expressing solidarity as a minoritized and underserved population on our campus. They have been charged for doing what we precisely teach them at Dartmouth — to be engaged citizens and critical thinkers, bravely standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are experiencing genocide and 75 years of erasure at the hands of the Israeli state.

On Oct. 7, 2023, the Hamas attack claimed the lives of around 1,200 people, including 695 Israeli civilians. Since then, the destruction in Gaza by Israeli forces has been, as President Joe Biden notes, “over the top,” to put it euphemistically. All 12 universities in Gaza are destroyed. Nearly all infrastructure, including 280 schools, have been bombed. More than 34,000 Palestinians have perished and two million are displaced. As vital aid to Palestine has collapsed, a full-blown famine is underway as Israeli forces seize the Rafah crossing on May 7 in what could be “the mother of massacres.” Humanitarian and ecological crises are larger than any politics, and our students are part of a generation of conscience and truth tellers who are asking that we engage in peaceful and ethical anti-war solutions. They are appealing to the American ideals of equality, human dignity and inclusive dialogue. There is everything to love — rather than to fear — about their beautiful camps as sites of solidarities and difficult dialogues. As professors with intellectual missions, we cannot let the ruins of universities in Gaza and the assault on human enlightenment be reprised anywhere.  

Thus, I humbly ask that the administration consider dropping all charges and bans against Orleck, professor Christopher MacEvitt — a faculty affiliate of WGSS — and all students. An administrative conscience that models kindness, care, deescalation and intellectual engagement would extend the marginal gains we have made since the nation’s racial reckoning around Black Lives Matter and the spate of anti-Asian violence prior to, during and after the pandemic.  

Another way is possible — another College is possible.

Eng-Beng Lim is a professor of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Dartmouth. Guest columns represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.