Dartmouth hunger strike demands college drop charges against protesters

Eight Dartmouth College students declared the start of a hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during a rally at noon in front of Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., Feb. 19, 2024. Among their demands of the college administration are dropping charges against two students were arrested while protesting on the Parkhurst Hall lawn in October,

Eight Dartmouth College students declared the start of a hunger strike in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during a rally at noon in front of Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., Feb. 19, 2024. Among their demands of the college administration are dropping charges against two students were arrested while protesting on the Parkhurst Hall lawn in October, "divestment from Israeli apartheid" and recognizing and protecting Palestinian students during the ongoing Israeli response in Gaza over the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — James M. Patterson

Palestinian-American student Ramsey Alsheikh, center, hands over a list of demands to Dartmouth College's Director of Safety and Security Keysi Montas, right, at the entrance of Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., during a rally to announce that he and seven classmates are initiating a hunger strike on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. They requested the demands, which include dropping charges against two students who were arrested during a protest last October, and divesting from investments that support Israeli-Palestinian apartheid, and recognizing and protecting Palestinian students on campus. From left are hunger-stirkers Jordan Narrol, Calvin George and Paul Yang. Sgt. Greg Timmins, of Dartmouth Safety and Security, is second from right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Palestinian-American student Ramsey Alsheikh, center, hands over a list of demands to Dartmouth College's Director of Safety and Security Keysi Montas, right, at the entrance of Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., during a rally to announce that he and seven classmates are initiating a hunger strike on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. They requested the demands, which include dropping charges against two students who were arrested during a protest last October, and divesting from investments that support Israeli-Palestinian apartheid, and recognizing and protecting Palestinian students on campus. From left are hunger-stirkers Jordan Narrol, Calvin George and Paul Yang. Sgt. Greg Timmins, of Dartmouth Safety and Security, is second from right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth College senior Solange Acosta, right, hugs junior Roan Wade as she prepares to announce the start of a hunger strike with senior Calvin George, left, and six other students at a rally in front of Dartmouth College's Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. Wade said that in light of death threats she has received since being arrested while demonstrating on the administration building's lawn last October, she feels that undertaking a hunger strike for a cause she believes in gives her control over the risks she is facing. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Dartmouth College senior Solange Acosta, right, hugs junior Roan Wade as she prepares to announce the start of a hunger strike with senior Calvin George, left, and six other students at a rally in front of Dartmouth College's Parkhurst Hall in Hanover, N.H., on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. Wade said that in light of death threats she has received since being arrested while demonstrating on the administration building's lawn last October, she feels that undertaking a hunger strike for a cause she believes in gives her control over the risks she is facing. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterso

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 02-19-2024 9:00 PM

HANOVER — On Monday, eight Dartmouth College students announced that they would begin a hunger strike. The move comes in opposition to the charges still standing against two students arrested while protesting in October, as well as what activists characterize as the college’s ambivalence toward concerns of Palestinian students — and student concerns for Palestine — in the months of the Israel-Hamas War.

The hunger strikers, joined in the blustery cold by a throng of supporters, stood on a semi-circle of pavement that curves toward the entrance to the building that houses the office of Dartmouth President Sian Beilock.

In October, Hanover police arrested Roan Wade, a junior, along with Kevin Engel, a freshman, on charges of misdemeanor criminal trespassing as the pair sat in a tent in protest of the college’s stance toward the Mideast conflict.

Wade watched on Monday from the main sidewalk as students gathered on the spot where her criminal prosecution began. If she had joined her peers on that section of the walkway, she would have violated the terms of her bail.

“Roan, Roan, don’t arrest her,” protesters chanted. “Beilock’s choking under pressure.”

A letter penned by three of the hunger strikers notes that their action draws upon “a long tradition of Palestinian hunger strikers in Israeli prisons fighting apartheid with their own bodies,” and is also meant to bring attention to the hundreds of thousands of Gazans who are starving — according to the United Nations — as the war progresses.

“Most urgently,” reads the letter, delivered to two Safety and Security officers standing in front of the entrance of Parkhurst, “we present several realistic, immediate demands for the administration that we feel can be a small, first step forward toward a safer and more just campus.”

Demands include that the college “recognize and protect Palestinian students,” “divest from apartheid,” review and respond to the points of the Dartmouth New Deal — a document of progressive demands — and drop the charges against Wade and Engel.

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“Dartmouth values, supports, and defends the right of freedom of expression, including the right to protest and demonstrate peacefully, in accordance with our established policies,” Jana Barnello, a college spokesperson, wrote in an emailed statement about the hunger strike. “Our student life professionals are in contact with these students and continue to provide health and wellness care to make sure they are safe. The safety and well-being of all Dartmouth students is our top priority.”

In November, Brown University arrested 20 students engaged in a sit-in. The school later dropped the charges.

The Dartmouth students’ letter alleges that “the administration has not released a single statement acknowledging the existence of a Palestinian student community on campus,” and takes particular issue with the fact that the college did not release a statement after the November shooting in Burlington of three college students of Palestinian descent who grew up in the West Bank.

“We will starve for a better future on this campus and in Palestine,” said Ramsey Alsheikh, a sophomore who is president of the Palestine Solidarity Coalition. Alsheikh’s father is Palestinian.

The letter also characterizes the first steps of divestment as the college commissioning “a report by a third-party examining ... investments that affect Israelis and Palestinians living under apartheid,” and requests “greater investment transparency and a public review of the endowment’s connections to apartheid.”

Of the eight hunger strikers, six were willing to be publicly identified. Wade, Engel and Alsheikh are joined by students Paul Yang, Calvin George and Jordan Narrol. The strikers said they will still consume fluids.

Wade said the strike will continue indefinitely until all four demands have been addressed by the administration.

Yang, a founding member of the Palestinian Solidarity Coalition, served for two years in the South Korean military, which he said gave him a glimpse into the “collective trauma” of Japanese colonialism and U.S. imperialism. “Scars of colonialist violence exist all over the world, but Palestine is experiencing the most intense form ... at this very moment,” Yang said.

He called into question the meaning of academic institutions in such times of controversy.

“What is the point of education if we stay silent on the most horrific genocide of our era?” Yang posed. “What is the meaning of research if we choose to ignore the massive scale of human rights violations that have been taking place in broad daylight for more than seven decades?”

He added that the student protesters “refuse to be insulted by the Beilock administration’s contemptuous attitude towards the students’ expression of political will.”

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

“The Dartmouth Equal Opportunity, Accessibility, and Title IX Office and the Office of Community Standards and Accountability are reviewing Dartmouth reports for violations of Dartmouth policy and the standards of conduct,” a statement from the college reads. “Any students suspected of violating Dartmouth policies or standards of conduct will be subject to the institutional disciplinary process.”

Amen Salha, a sophomore who is Lebanese-American, described the administration’s response to the vandalism as “beating around the bush.”

“We just want them to recognize Palestinian students, and condemn hate crimes,” Salha said. “I am an Arab-American and I feel unsafe on campus.”

When Wade and Engel were arrested in the fall, leaning against their tent was a sign that read “Brave Space,” a nod to “Dartmouth Dialogues,” one of Beilock’s signature projects.

The effort is meant, according to its website, to strengthen “a culture in which community members engage in respectful discussion across differences and feel comfortable having their views challenged.”

The initiative is now mocked by some students, who write it off as pretense.

“All (Beilock) cares about is public image,” said Sade Francis, a senior from New York City. “In doing that, she’s arresting my classmates.”

Wade, scheduled to stand trial in Lebanon next week, said that Beilock had been subpoenaed.

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