A Narrative of the Night’s Events

The scene in President Hanlon’s office.

On the evening of March 31, at ten minutes before 5:00 PM, a picture of a hand-drawn note was posted on the anonymous, Dartmouth-specific message board Bored@Baker. The note, titled “Draft of Plan for Slumber Party,” detailed a series of steps that seemed to culminate in the occupation of President Phil Hanlon 77’s office at the end of his weekly Tuesday afternoon office hours, which are open to the campus at large. According to the note, there was a preliminary meeting in the Cutter-Shabazz affinity house on Sunday night at 8:00 and another on Monday night at the same time.

The post did not go unnoticed on the website – it quickly received dozens of “agrees” and “newsworthies” (part of Bored@Baker’s “voting system”), ensuring that the post would be highly visible for anyone logging onto the site. At some point yesterday, the picture was emailed to President Hanlon’s office; whether or not he read or considered the contents of the email is unknown. Casual student consideration of the note was generally tinged with skepticism, largely because the protest was planned for April 1, popularly known as “April Fool’s Day.”

There was little further indication of an impending protest until the onset of President Hanlon’s office hours at 4:00 PM, when approximately 40 people entered his study. Some amongst the group unfurled banners, while others immediately began questioning the nonplussed President about his response to the Freedom Budget. Many of the protesters subsequently set up camp across the room, including on top of President Hanlon’s desk.

At 4:27, the protesters sent an email to the campus listserv via the Dartmouth Radical’s account titled “Sit-in at President Hanlon’s Office.” The email criticized the administration for failing to respond in full to the February 24 “Freedom Budget,” citing a March 6 op-ed written by President Hanlon and Interim Provost Martin Wybourne. It then stated that the protesters were “staging a sit-in of President Hanlon’s office until he provides a point-by-point response to the items in the Budget.” The blitz also included a link to a Livestream channel, which showed a live feed from the President’s office, and a Twitter account under the handle @gossipgangstah.

 President Hanlon duly left his office at 5:00, when his office hours were scheduled to end. The tenor of the room itself during the half-hour before his departure was characterized by alternating streams of diatribe and de-escalation. For his part, the President generally defaulted to his position that any potential decision or response would be made in concert with his staff, emphasizing that he was in no position to make policy unilaterally or spontaneously. Hanlon did, as a “starting point, commit to do a climate survey of campus,” then adding that “you have to agree that you will – we will get to the names of the responsible people for each of these actions that you’re asking for – you have to agree to sit down with those people.”

President Hanlon speaks with the protestors.

Speaking over President Hanlon’s objections, a protester then responded by asking “why is it so hard? Why do you keep ignoring the fact that we are asking you to just give us your personal opinion [on the Freedom Budget]?”

President Hanlon then said “because you need to work with the people on the senior team whose area and responsibility these [issues] fall under, and if I started making the decisions from my seat, that’s not respecting them.” Another protester then asked, “maybe you could email them and ask them if it’s okay if you just tell us your opinion?” The President tersely replied that “once I start saying an opinion, that puts them in a box. They can’t do their work.”

Immediately afterwards, Scott Mitchell, a student at the dual-degree engineering program between Bowdoin and Dartmouth, stated that “[change] needs to come from the inside… you [protestors are]  sitting here and you’re ridiculing President Hanlon to his face. This is not how you make the change happen.” In the exchange that ensued, a protester questioned Mitchell about the motives for his comments, remarking that it was “problematic” that he as a white man “came to the rescue of an older man, [who] was the head of a historically, prestigiously… exclusively white institution.” Another protester suggested that because President Hanlon was not democratically elected and was instead “brought into this office through structures that oppress the rest of the people in this room,… it’s a little bit necessary to cut him off sometimes.”

Following President Hanlon’s departure, Dean Johnson was at the focal point of much of the discussion. She expressed optimism about the positive steps made during the sit-in, but voiced concern about the “significant opportunity costs” of a prolonged demonstration and its negative impacts on student academic life. Rather than continue occupying Parkhurst, she encouraged the protesters to work with the Administration and identify a “solid way forward [that involves] people in the faculty and administration who care about these issues and want to see progress.” She suggested that a meeting on Friday with a broader group of administrators would be a good second step and committed to conducting an external audit of the campus culture.

Around 6:15, Head of Safety and Security Harry Kinne told the assembled protesters that “you’ve made some inroads today. The Administration is more receptive to people who abide by processes.” Nevertheless, said Kinne, “it is your individual decision [to remain in the office or leave], but we are asking you to go downstairs, so that the Hanover Police do not need to be called. We will allow you to stay in the building.”

A protester then cried out, “you’re telling me that I can’t eat!” Dean Johnson, standing a few feet away from Kinne, told the crowd that “he’s asking you in a very polite way to move out of this office and occupy a public space. He’s following the process and making an exception to allow you to stay in the building after normal business hours. You can order food so that people can eat.” Most protesters filed out of the office around 6:30, though about eight – who remain there to this point – opted to stay behind. Members of the press filed out an hour later, after they were also told to leave the room under threat of College disciplinary action; along with the bulk of the protesters, they moved to the foyer, which served as an open forum for the night.

For the next few hours, nobody was allowed into Parkhurst as Safety and Security secured the perimeter around the hall; the only exception was a bemused delivery man from Hanover’s Ramunto’s Pizzeria, who was escorted in and out by an officer. Students were permitted to leave, however, and the number of remaining protesters dropped as the night wore on.

As the local internet connection grew spotty, rumors grew that Safety and Security had cut off water and wifi services. Such rumors were unsubstantiated: indeed, officers supplied power strips so that remaining students could plug in their laptops and complete homework assignments. The protesters then, using imported armfuls of pillows and blankets, designed themselves makeshift beds.

As of 9:00 PM, there were still approximately eight protesters in President Hanlon’s office and a further six or seven in the atrium of Parkhurst Hall.

This story will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.

— The Review Staff