Dartmouth students end hunger strike as faculty seek to have students’ trespassing charges dropped

Dartmouth freshman Ben, top right, who declined to give his last name, shakes hands with sophomore Ramsey Alsheikh, center, president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, while he and junior Jordan Narrol, left, end their eight-day hunger strike during a protest outside of the Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Alsheikh and Narrol were part of a group of eight students participating in the hunger strike, two of whom are continuing, and chose to break their fast with watermelon, a fruit that has been used as “a symbol of the Palestinian people,” Narrol said, because it bears the colors of the flag and grows in the region. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth freshman Ben, top right, who declined to give his last name, shakes hands with sophomore Ramsey Alsheikh, center, president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, while he and junior Jordan Narrol, left, end their eight-day hunger strike during a protest outside of the Lebanon District Court in Lebanon, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. Alsheikh and Narrol were part of a group of eight students participating in the hunger strike, two of whom are continuing, and chose to break their fast with watermelon, a fruit that has been used as “a symbol of the Palestinian people,” Narrol said, because it bears the colors of the flag and grows in the region. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-01-2024 12:35 PM

Modified: 03-04-2024 12:14 PM


HANOVER — The two remaining students on hunger strike at Dartmouth College have ended their fast, according to a statement on Friday from the college.

But criticism of the administration’s handling of the arrest of two student protesters this past fall remains. An open letter released on Thursday, signed by over 180 faculty, staff and alumni, urges President Sian Leah Beilock to request that the Hanover police prosecutor drop the charges.

The message characterizes its signatories “as deeply troubled by the criminalization of student protest at Dartmouth,” which has had “a chilling effect on campus.”

It also demands that the administration “recognize students’ right to engage in nonviolent protest without retaliation, and commit to fostering an environment in which students, faculty, and staff can freely express political opinions including support for Palestine without fear of retribution.”

In October, Hanover police arrested Roan Wade, a junior, and Kevin Engel, a freshman, on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespass as they occupied a tent in front of the college’s administration building. They were protesting the college’s stance toward the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

Dartmouth won’t ask prosecutors to drop the charges, college spokeswoman Jana Barnello wrote in an email on Friday.

“Dartmouth prizes and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of individuals to express themselves, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of the law and in responsibility for one’s own actions,” Barnello wrote. “Our position on this issue is that we must let the legal process run its course, without interference.”

On Feb. 19, eight students launched a hunger strike. Among other concerns about Dartmouth’s stance on the Israel-Hamas War, they demanded the college “divest from apartheid” and ask the district attorney’s office to drop the charges against Wade and Engel.

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The faculty letter calls on the administration to ” ‘recogniz[e] the existence of Palestinian (and Arab and Muslim) students as a valuable part of the Dartmouth community, and openly commit to protecting them from all forms of racism and violence,’ ” quoting from an initial list of demands penned by the hunger strikers.an initial list of demands penned by the hunger strikers.

“This is imperative given that there have been a number of disturbing on-campus incidents targeting Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim members of the Dartmouth community in recent months,” the faculty letter reads.

In February, at the end of the college’s annual winter carnival, an ice sculpture carved to resemble a Palestinian state by Al-Nur, the college’s Muslim student association, was destroyed.

The letter also calls on Beilock to discuss with those involved in the hunger strike a list of progressive policy initiatives drafted by students known as the Dartmouth New Deal.

Dartmouth did not respond to a request for comment on other specifics of the faculty letter.

On Monday, as the trial for Wade and Engel began on the eighth day of the hunger strike, Wade and Paul Yang, a senior, announced that they would be the only two students to continue striking.

A Friday email from Dean of the College Scott Brown with the subject line “A Path Forward” announced that the pair “have chosen to end the strike.”

“We know some members of our community disagreed with the arrest of two students for trespassing on the lawn of Parkhurst Hall in the fall, feeling that these students were unfairly characterized,” the email read. “After discussions with these students, we now understand that they are consistently nonviolent activists.”

Brown also wrote that “Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab students at Dartmouth are valued members of our community” and that “multiple incidents on campus and in the surrounding communities,” including the shooting of three students of Palestinian descent in Burlington in November “have added to the pain and anxiety that was already being felt by these students because of the war in Gaza.”

He noted that “we also must recognize that our Jewish community is deeply in pain as well, following the October 7th terrorist attack.”

In terms of divestment, Brown wrote, “the bar is high,” but that Josh Keniston, chair of the college’s Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility, will meet each academic term with the Dartmouth New Deal Coalition.

Dartmouth announced last October that its endowment has grown to nearly $8 billion.

In a statement on Friday afternoon, the coalition wrote that the “hunger strike for Palestinian freedom was successful.”

“The college has opened up the process of divestment from Israeli apartheid and acknowledged the rights and presence of Palestinians and their supporters on campus,” the statement reads, referring to the developments as “a step in the right direction.”

“Israel is denying the people of Gaza food, water, and safe shelter — three fundamental human rights,” the statement continued. “Our university has investments in corporations that aid and abet this violence. We will continue to speak out until Dartmouth’s investments and policies are fully aligned with human rights and justice for all, including Palestinians.”

The Thursday letter from faculty raised concerns about the connections between the arrests and student advocacy for Palestine.

“We believe that Dartmouth should honor the principle of academic freedom, and distance the College from national efforts to suppress criticism of Israeli policies in Israel/Palestine and the United States’ support for them,” the letter reads.

It also refers to a ” ‘Palestine exception’ to academic freedom” at Dartmouth, citing an episode in 2017 when N. Bruce Duthu, a professor in the Native American & Indigenous Studies Department, was up for the position of dean of faculty. (The letter does not name Duthu but the description of events tracks with what occurred to him at that time).

Once in the spotlight, Duthu faced criticism for what the letter describes as “his opposition to Israeli policies.”

He ultimately declined the role of dean.

Duthu on Friday declined to comment on the letter’s reference to the dean position.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at  fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.

CORRECTION: The chairman of Dartmouth’s Advisory Committee on Inv  estor Responsibility is Josh Keniston. An article in the Weekend Valley News included an incorrect first name for Keniston.