Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
May 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Orleck: From Buddhist Monks to Riot Police: A Reflection on the Last Week at Dartmouth

History professor Annelise Orleck looks back on the circumstances behind her arrest on May 1 and the lessons she learned from it.

Many of us were traumatized by the College’s decision to bring in police, including New Hampshire riot police and SWAT teams, to our quiet, rural campus on May 1. Dozens of faculty, including myself, concerned about our students’ safety, came to the Green. What I observed was a 100% peaceful demonstration supporting striking graduate and undergraduate student workers, calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and demanding that the College divest from companies making or selling weapons to the Israeli military.

At no point did I see or hear anything that could be interpreted as antisemitic. It is important to note that a number of the students, faculty and staff involved in the Gaza peace protests across the country are Jewish. “Tikkun olam” — our religion’s call for repair of the world — moves them to say: not in our name. 

There was no violence that night until the riot police descended. Our Green was suddenly invaded by heavily armed men with truncheons and police dogs. An armored vehicle was deployed. Police shined powerful lights to blind us. Sometime after 8:45 p.m., officers began a series of sudden assaults on the peaceful crowd. Like a seabird that suddenly sees a fish, they descended pointedly, repeatedly and with excessive force.

I stepped forward to record them arresting students. I said to the police: These are students, not criminals. Leave them alone. 

Without warning, I was rushed from behind and body-slammed with such force that my feet left the ground for a few seconds, landing at the feet of the protesters. The police had taken my phone when they hit me. I rose and demanded my phone back. 

I was picked up under each arm, slammed to the ground, dragged face down across the grass and held down by three officers. One kneeled on my back. I heard myself say what I have heard too many times in too many videos of police brutality: “You’re hurting me. Please stop. I can’t breathe.” And the police replied, using exactly the same words I have heard in so many videos. “You can talk, so you can breathe.”

They zip-tied me — and many others — so tightly that they compressed nerves in our wrists, causing lasting pain and trauma. When I begged them to loosen the zip ties, they refused. We were kept in those ties for over an hour. 

Earlier that afternoon, I had taught a class on the history of the civil rights movement. So, it seemed appropriate that when the students and I were arrested, we began singing to ease our fear and pain. Dartmouth’s graduate and undergraduate workers had, hours earlier, rallied in support of GOLD-UE’s strike for a living wage, better health care, support for child care costs and visa support for international students. They had taught the crowd an old labor anthem: “Solidarity Forever.” We sang as we were driven to jail in Dartmouth Outing Club vans. We also sang the civil rights songs “This Little Light of Mine” and “We Shall Not Be Moved.” We continued singing in the holding cell.

Eventually, almost all of us were bailed out by the Vermont Workers’ Center. My bail bond banned me from the entire Dartmouth campus. Since I am teaching two full classes, that would have inconvenienced a good number of students. As I understand it, Dartmouth called the Hanover Police Department to ask that my bond be revised. Now, like all arrested students, I am banned from the Green, Parkhurst Hall and 14 Webster Ave., where the President’s house stands. 

Not including the two student reporters for The Dartmouth — against whom the State is not pressing charges — 87 people were charged with criminal trespass for standing on our own Green. I cannot believe this would have been done without at least the tacit approval of the Dartmouth administration and, by most accounts, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, who is on the Dartmouth Board of Trustees, ex officio.

In my 34 years of teaching here, I have never seen Parkhurst invite state violence on our students, faculty, staff and Upper Valley neighbors. The College has thus far refused to issue a public statement calling on the prosecutors to drop all charges. To me, that says a lot.

One man still facing charges, as well as medical bills, is Andrew Tefft. He grew up in Hanover and was visiting his father on May 1 when he had his legs kicked out from under him by police. He was thrown down so hard that his shoulder was broken. He remains traumatized, as do all of us who were brutalized that night. This is unacceptable. We don’t teach student protesters that violence is wrong by inflicting violence at their protests.

Similar assaults are occurring across the country. It is important that we ask ourselves why.

On April 30, the New York Police Department, invited by Columbia University President Minouche Shafik, dragged students from Hamilton Hall. They had occupied it and renamed it Hind’s Hall, after a child killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. The NYPD barricaded students into dorm rooms. Some protesters were kept without water for 16 hours — two in solitary confinement. On May 2, the Los Angeles Police Department moved onto the University of California, Los Angeles, campus and watched as counter-protesters assaulted the pro-Palestinian encampment before shooting rubber bullets at the protesters. 

Anti-Vietnam War protesters in 1968 chanted “The whole world is watching” while being beaten by Chicago police. Thanks to cell phones and brave journalism by students from The Dartmouth and other campus newspapers, that is again true today.

Professors across the country — including colleagues at Emory University, Columbia University and Indiana University — have been arrested, beaten, tased and banned from campus for trying to protect their students. I see all of this as a wholesale attack on the freedom of educators. It is a part of the K-12 book bans and curriculum restrictions now sweeping the country. We now know that college administrators are willing to use force to control educators and students. This struggle is just beginning.

Nearly 500 Dartmouth faculty met with College President Sian Leah Beilock and Provost David Kotz on Monday over Zoom. They asked us to try to find ways to “move forward.” Faculty made clear that we cannot move forward, and we cannot heal, until:

  1. Charges against all 88 faculty, students, staff and community members are dropped.
  2. The President issues a real apology for the trauma that inviting violent riot police caused so many community members.
  3. The College promises that riot police will never again be called to campus.
  4. The College changes its protest policies to truly protect freedom of speech and assembly.

So far, none of that has happened.

The weekend before the police raid, Dartmouth brought a group of Buddhist monks to campus who led students in discussion, meditation, silent walks, song and reflection on how we can reach a place of peace. 

Those monks, some of whom lived through the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, urged us to transform our trauma before we transmit it to others. That is what I, my faculty colleagues, Dartmouth students and Upper Valley neighbors who were on the Green on May 1 are now trying to do.

We need to love each other harder than ever, trust each other and re-weave our beloved community. Whatever the administration does or doesn’t do, we can do that on our own. And we are.

In the words of the union song “Solidarity Forever”: “We can build a new world from the ashes of the old.” That work starts today.

Annelise Orleck is a history professor at Dartmouth College. Guest columns represent the views of their author(s), which are not necessarily those of The Dartmouth.