Since October 7th, student activists on campuses across the country have been organizing rallies against Israeli apartheid and vigils for the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Activists at Dartmouth College are among those groups, organizing a sustained vigil outside Dartmouth’s administration building, Parkhurst Hall. Days into the continuous vigil, student organizers released The Dartmouth New Deal, a document that outlined a progressive vision for the college and included explicit demands that Dartmouth divest itself from the military-industrial complex that enables Israeli Apartheid. Hours after the document was released, two student organizers were arrested in a tent outside of Parkhurst Hall for trespassing. The arrested students, Kevin Engel and Roan Wade, speak with The Real News about pro-Palestine activism at Dartmouth, the administration’s efforts to repress them, and student organizers’ vision to transform the university’s relationship to militarism.
Post-Production: Dave Hebden
Mel Buer: Hey, folks. Welcome back to another episode of The Real News Network Podcast. I’m your host, Mel Buer. Before we dive into today’s episode, I wanted to take a moment to thank you, our listeners, for sticking with us as we work hard to bring you the independent journalism that you know and rely on. We don’t take corporate cash, we don’t have ads, and we don’t put our reporting behind paywalls. Year after year we’ve relied in part on your generous donations to keep the lights on and keep our shows running. If you love what we do and want to support us in our work, please take a moment and head on over to therealnews.com/donate. Your donations mean more to us than you know. If you’d like to stay up to date on the important stories that we’re covering, sign up for our free newsletter at therealnews.com/sign-up, and follow us on your favorite social media. We have incredible things planned for the new year, so you don’t want to miss a moment.
Since October 7, student activists on campuses across the country have been organizing rallies against Israeli apartheid and vigils for the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip. Activists at Dartmouth College are among those groups, organizing a sustained vigil outside the Dartmouth administration building, Parkhurst Hall, last month. Days into the continuous vigil, student organizers released the Dartmouth New Deal, a document that outlined a progressive vision for the college and included explicit demands that Dartmouth divest itself from the military-industrial complex that enables Israeli apartheid. Hours after the document was released, two student organizers were arrested in a tent outside of Parkhurst Hall for trespassing. According to reporting on the incident from New Hampshire Public Radio, those students were, “released on bail and the condition that they don’t enter Parkhurst again,” shortly after their arrests, according to an email from the Dartmouth chapter of the Sunrise Movement to the Valley News.
A sign reading, “Brave spaces,” leaned against the tent in front of which police handcuffed the two students. The slogan is one used often by Dartmouth College President Beilock herself in talking about protecting the free exchange of ideas on college campuses; a cause that she has made a pillar of her early presidency. The arrest caused outrage and opened up heated discourse about the erosion of free speech on Dartmouth’s campus.
With me today, are Dartmouth student activists Kevin Engel and Roan Wade, who were the two students arrested on campus last week. Kevin is a freshman at Dartmouth College and a student activist involved in the campus chapter of Sunrise Movement, as well as a member of the Palestinian Solidarity Coalition at Dartmouth, or PSC. Roan is a junior at Dartmouth, a member of Sunrise Dartmouth PSC, and a Student Workers Collective undergraduate union organizer. Roan and Kevin came on the show to discuss the events that led up to their arrest, the ongoing pro-Palestine organizing on campus, and the legacy of anti-war, anti-apartheid student activism at Dartmouth College. Here is that interview.
Kevin Engel: My name’s Kevin Engel. I’m a freshman at Dartmouth College. I’m a student activist. I’m involved in the Sunrise chapter here and also PSC which is the Palestinian Solidarity Coalition.
Mel Buer: Great.
Roan Wade: Hey, I’m Roan Wade. I use any pronouns. I’m a junior here at Dartmouth. I’m the hub coordinator for Sunrise Dartmouth. I’m also involved in the union here, the undergrad union, the Student Workers Collective at Dartmouth. I’m the secretary for the union and on the bargaining committee. I’m also a member of PSC as well as a writer for Spare Rib, which is a feminist publication.
Mel Buer: Great, thank you. So, can you tell me just a little bit about what happened when you two were arrested on campus earlier this week? What were the events leading up to this encampment and how did the administration respond to that?
Kevin Engel: Yeah. What day was the vigil? Was it –
Roan Wade: The vigil was on October 19.
Kevin Engel: October 19? So, yeah, on October 19, PSC held a vigil honoring the lives lost in the current conflict in Gaza, honoring both Israeli and Palestinian lives. As part of this vigil, we planted flags in front of Parkhurst, which is the building here at Dartmouth, representing the lives lost. Within the hour, the administration told us that they would have the flags removed. So, we stuck around for a little bit to be there when that happened. And then, this never happened. It didn’t happen that night, so we stayed overnight and it evolved into this occupation. So, we were there 24-7 for a week, being there with the flags, making sure that that place of mourning wasn’t swept away by administration. And then, last Friday, we launched the Dartmouth New Deal as Sunrise, which is something that Sunrise has been planning for a while, which is a list of demands that we have for the Dartmouth administration.
Roan Wade: Yeah. So, part of what has been central to our work is that this has been something that has evolved collectively across the campus left, as a joint collaborative effort amongst activist organizations across campus, and as well with a lot of support from the broader community. Beginning with that vigil, what’s really important to emphasize is that the college had hosted a vigil specifically only to mourn the lives of Israelis who had died in the conflict. That vigil was promoted by the college, it was attended by the president of the college. And consistently, we were finding that Palestinian students on campus were not given space to mourn. It was entirely put on student activists to work on establishing that space but the institution was perpetuating this very one-sided narrative.
And so, we hosted a vigil, mourning all lives lost to apartheid, both Palestinian and Israeli, and instead of attending that vigil, the president sent cops. It shows the disproportionate reaction from the institution. It clearly shows their hand. Immediately after the vigil, we did this demonstration of placing the flags in the ground because we wanted the admin to understand that the role that Dartmouth as an institution plays within this broader conflict, is supporting this conflict. By its ties to the military-industrial complex, it is complicit in the ongoing genocide in Gaza. And we specifically put these flags that are representative of the lives lost, so that when the president of the college, and members of the administration have to walk into work every day, they have to be reminded of that.
Literally, within the hour, people came to try to remove them. And we said you can’t put a timeline on mourning. It can’t be confined to the one-hour vigil that we had. We want this to be a continued presence that was inspired by past activist movements. There was a really impactful… What inspired us a lot was the shantytown movement in the ’80s at Dartmouth College. Basically, they constructed a shantytown in the center of campus as a way of both raising awareness and putting increased pressure on the institution to divest from apartheid in South Africa. We took a lot of inspiration from that movement and built upon legacies and really tried to center the timeline of how we’re talking about these issues.
The institution has a vested interest in starting the clock on October 7, and we want to ground this in the fact that this has been an ongoing struggle, that this is a legacy of activism and organizing work and struggle that has been going on for decades. And so, that was part of the interest we had in initially having the demonstration at the administration building.
Mel Buer: Right. So, the Palestine Solidarity Coalition, is this a new formation of the student body, or is this something that has existed on campus for a number of years? Tell us a little bit about that.
Roan Wade: Yeah. The Palestine Solidarity Coalition, PSC, has existed here for a while. It was formed by activists who are also involved in a lot of other intersectional movements. Specifically, there’s been a lot of involvement with union organizers and PSC. PSC has existed here for years but we’ve only started to gain a lot of recognition and attention from the administration, given the conflict. And given that we’re visibly taking up space on campus, they have a harder time ignoring us. And as such, they have taken pretty drastic tactics to try to suppress us.
Mel Buer: Right. Part of this occupation, or I suppose you could call it an occupation, a continued vigil on campus, is also born out of this Dartmouth New Deal. It’s wanting to bring these demands to the administration. And the first point in your letter is asking, well, demanding that the administration divest itself, the endowment from the organizations that are complicit in apartheid and its apparatuses. Is this something that the administration has explicitly pushed back on since you released this demand letter?
Roan Wade: They arrested us.
Kevin Engel: Indirectly. Indirectly. They have yet to actually address the New Deal in any significant way and that’s in part due because we were there for the week. It’s important to contextualize the timeline. The week before we were there and we were demonstrating and having the vigil. There was a lot of administrative pushback. They wanted us gone, they wanted the flags gone, and there was a huge amount of pushback. And so, we, as Sunrise, released the Dartmouth New Deal on Friday, and that’s when they really cracked down on us. When we set up the tent we were arrested for criminal trespass. In a statement released the next day, we were accused of inciting violence and promoting physical violence.
Roan Wade: Which was a complete rewriting of history.
Kevin Engel: Yes and which doesn’t address the Dartmouth New Deal at all. To our knowledge, they haven’t even read it. They did not meet us. They did not negotiate with us on any of our demands. In fact, at one point, we were asking that they read the Dartmouth New Deal, and they couldn’t do that.
Mel Buer: Right. We’ve seen a number of campus administrations across the country, I’m thinking of Harvard and others, that have really bowed to pressure from specific, very rich, well-connected donors, who are demanding that they quell descent on campuses of pro-Palestinian sentiment from students. What I would consider really stymieing protests and free speech on what should be and what is always touted as campuses that are full of these democratic ideals. Do you feel that Dartmouth is falling in line with that in the way that they are handling responses to, specifically, the PSC and the ongoing movement that you’re trying to build with Sunrise and the New Deal? Do you feel that’s the same thing on your campus as well?
Kevin Engel: Definitely. The Dartmouth New Deal was released by Sunrise, but it’s had a lot of work. It’s a very intersectional letter. A lot of the demands extend beyond divestment from Israel. It’s been worked on by a number of different organizations here and a lot of student activists. It even contains references to the 2014 Freedom Budget, which is a similar document that was constructed here at Dartmouth by student activists, asking for very similar demands to what we’re asking. This is part of a continued struggle. But it’s very important that we were arrested on criminal trespass and that was specifically because we were there for a week prior.
We were arrested because of the current conflict in Gaza and because of our stance as being pro-Palestine. They have yet to address any of the things in the Dartmouth New Deal and they have intentionally focused on demand number one, which is divestment from Israel, and indirectly attacked us through that by arresting us and trespassing us. By making it so that me and Roan are not allowed at the administration building anymore as part of the trespass letter. It very much is an attack on our freedom of speech and it is very closely tied to the issue in Palestine even though the Dartmouth New Deal is very, not comprehensive, but very wide in its scope.
Roan Wade: Dartmouth is an institution where there is honestly insane amounts of wealth. The statistics are really shocking to me. It’s almost one in four students is from the 1%. But when we look at the students who are organizing and leading these activist causes, it’s students of marginalized identities. And it’s really played out across campus of… It’s become really, really clear who’s on the right side of history based on who’s showing up to protests. And the fact that they’re targeting students of marginalized identities plays into, frankly, racist tropes of students organizing in solidarity with Palestine as being violent or terrorists when none of our actions indicated that whatsoever. And none of our statements, anything, honestly, as an organization, most of our work is mutual aid based. We are focused on taking care of students of marginalized identities. The fact that they immediately jumped to accusations of violence really shows that this institution exists and has existed to uphold all mechanisms of oppression, be that white supremacy, class struggle, or homophobia. It’s an institution that is really rooted in our continued oppression.
Kevin Engel: And the precedent that to resist the institution means you get arrested is a very, very troubling one. Especially when you look at who’s on the other end when it’s marginalized identities. I’m very privileged because I’m not an international student. I took a much smaller risk than some of the other students who were there who were demonstrating but who weren’t actually physically inside the tent.
Mel Buer: Yeah. I want to circle back a little bit to tapping into the legacy of student activists in previous generations, particularly as it relates to encampments and occupations in opposition to South African apartheid in the ’80s. How important is calling back to that legacy for you as student activists at Dartmouth specifically? And maybe, if you want to bring it out a little bit more, let’s keep on having a conversation about what it means to tap into the broader legacy of student activism in this country, of which there is a rich history of that work. What are your thoughts on that? What do you think?
Roan Wade: Yeah. It was something that was always inspiring to us and we shaped our tactics around the past demonstrations that have occurred on this campus and also were really inspired by activists movements across the country. The fact that they arrested us for what we are doing now, even when they were… All of our actions had precedent and they arrested us despite the precedent that we were falling in line with, it shows how much our freedom of speech has been cracked down upon. We’ve been discussing what our strategy is moving forward, and something we think a lot about in terms of operating on college campuses like Dartmouth and those in the Ivy League institutions, is how focused they are on their image and having this illusion of everything being perfect.
And the fact that we were physically taking up space is what intimidated the college so much. We saw they changed the route that they were bringing people on during college tours because they didn’t want students who potentially were looking to come to this institution to realize that not everything is perfect. We played into those tactics that we saw in the ’80s during the shantytown protests but also that we saw during the Occupy Movement and we saw during the Vietnam War. So we were very rooted in past generations of activism.
Mel Buer: Yeah. It busts through the facade of uniformity when you have individuals taking up space and really pushing these issues to the forefront of either curious people’s or strangers’ minds as they walk past. So, of course, the university would take every available avenue to hide that and to keep that facade in place for as long as possible. Absolutely. Other thoughts?
Kevin Engel: Especially when you consider… You received the statement, right, from the president?
Mel Buer: Mm-hmm.
Kevin Engel: Yeah. The quote that she claims was something that was alarming of physical violence was a direct misrepresentation and a misuse of a quote from the 2014 Freedom Budget, which says, that those who believe in freedom will be forced into physical action. So there is precedent in referring to that because it’s a document that was released here at Dartmouth, which was perfectly fine. And so, it shows the deterioration of our ability to speak. Or it shows a direct attack on us because number one, we stand with Palestine and we stand in solidarity with Palestinians who are dying in Gaza. It shows that the institution itself is falling in line with the many others who are against pro-Palestinian students, to say the least.
Mel Buer: Right. Yeah. It’s a bit of a jump to see physical action and immediately think of violence. What do they think you’re going to do, burn down the administration building?
Kevin Engel: Definitely. Yeah. And they didn’t even negotiate with us or bring that up when they… They didn’t even come outside to talk to us.
Mel Buer: Right. Would you, as a group, have been receptive to that negotiation if they had come out with an idea to maintain the sanctity of the vigil, work with the administration if they actually reached across the divide and tried to open up a dialogue? Would you have been receptive to that conversation? I can imagine that you might’ve been.
Kevin Engel: Yeah. At one point, we were prepared to leave the tent if they released a statement saying that they’d read the Dartmouth New Deal, were considering some of the demands, and that they would open up that dialogue and we could talk with them in the future. And then, also, that there was a permanent memorial put in place, anywhere on campus, to any degree, honoring the lives of Palestinian and Israeli deaths in the conflict.
Mel Buer: And no response? No even chance to have that conversation?
Kevin Engel: Yeah.
Roan Wade: Absolutely none. We still haven’t heard anything from the administration, even though it’s been very public, the fact that we got arrested, and they’re receiving pushback from their handling of the situation.
Kevin Engel: Yeah. They sent over a dozen Hanover police officers to arrest us.
Roan Wade: They were sending in a ton.
Kevin Engel: Yeah. It was very, very extreme. And to claim that they were scared of physical violence or some threat to the community, retroactively, actually did, in my eyes, more damage. Because now people think that we are terrorists or that we are violent individuals and that there was a concern for safety when in reality, there wasn’t.
Mel Buer: Right. The final question here is what’s next? Are you planning on trying to continue this vigil? Is this still ongoing on campus? Or have you thought of other things that you would like to focus on, more rallies? What is something that your group is working on in the future?
Roan Wade: There’s always more work to be done. This struggle isn’t going to end anytime soon and we’re going to be continuing it for decades. Of course, we are really working on unifying the campus left around the Dartmouth New Deal. The campus left is unified around the Dartmouth New Deal and so we are going to continue this campaign of pushing this forward with the administration through a variety of fronts, whether that be through continued physical demonstrations, through art, through rallies, or protests. We’re not giving up because we got arrested.
Kevin Engel: For sure. And then, one thing that we are definitely going to do is reframe this and rescope this back to the Dartmouth New Deal. Their attack against us as individuals did a good job at focusing conversation around us and our arrest and violence and things like that. But it’s a very short-term solution and we’ll be back to reframe this around the Dartmouth New Deal and bring this back into conversation.
Mel Buer: That’s it for us here at The Real News Network Podcast. Once again, I’m your host, Mel Buer. If you love today’s episode, be sure to subscribe to the podcast to get notified when the next one drops. You can find us on most platforms. And if you’d like to get in touch with me, you can find me on social media. My DMs are always open. Or send me a message via email at email@example.com. Send your tips, comments, questions, or episode ideas. I’d love to hear from you. Thank you so much for sticking around, and I’ll see you next time.