Freedom Fighters

A look back at the Parkhurst takeover of 2014

The president’s office in Parkhurst Hall, the College’s administrative epicenter, has its own bathroom. Anna Winham ’14 knows. Ten years ago—during a two-night sit-in by 35 students advocating for a “Freedom Budget”—she brushed her teeth there.

The occupation took place in April 2014 after administrators ignored the list of 73 demands students had sent to President Phil Hanlon ’77 five weeks earlier. “Our intention, for at least some of us, was to occupy the office, potentially for days,” Winham says. 

The protesters called for “continuous external reviews of the College’s structural racism, classism, ableism, sexism, and heterosexism,” the expulsion of any student convicted of sexual assault or rape, and increased enrollment of minorities, among other campus reforms, loosely modeled on the 1965 “Freedom Budget for All Americans” coauthored by Martin Luther King Jr.

The students sought a point-by-point response by March 24. They didn’t get one. At 4 p.m. on April 1, students arrived at Hanlon’s office with sleeping bags, toothbrushes, food, and homework, vowing to remain until administrators replied to their long list of demands. One student read the document to Hanlon aloud. Other students hung “No Justice, No Peace” posters and live-streamed.

Hanlon left at 5 p.m. 

Parkhurst had been occupied before, in 1969, by undergrads opposed to the Vietnam War and the presence of ROTC. Those well-chronicled events led to arrests. Before the 2014 occupation, student protests had been swirling on campus for several years. In 2010, undergrads advocated for fair treatment of staff when President Jim Yong Kim grappled with a budget crisis and layoffs loomed. From October 2011 to January 2012, students from Occupy Dartmouth camped outside Collis in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In 2013, student activists disrupted the admissions office’s welcome show for accepted, uncommitted students, hoping to draw attention to concerns about sexual assault, racism, and homophobia on campus.

The following year, history major Jalil Bishop ’14, president of the Afro-American Society, worked with representatives from several student groups to write and present the Freedom Budget. “We had a cross-issue, cross-organization, cross-community coalition that said, ‘If you’re going to address any of this, you’re going to have to address all the issues that we’re facing,’ ” he says.

Inside Hanlon’s office, the students wrote press releases, contacted reporters, posted on social media, and organized a march around the Green. English major Abigail Macias ’14 worked on her thesis at Hanlon’s desk. “Some people thought, ‘Oh, it’s a mockery,’ but it’s like, ‘No, I really just need to do this right now,’ ” she says. Others played board games, did schoolwork, read, played music, and danced. The bathroom came in handy.

Allison Puglisi ’15 slept in a borrowed sleeping bag. “A lot of us did homework. I wrote the proposal for my senior thesis. There was also some fear amid all the joy and music because we obviously weren’t authorized to be there and anticipated some form of punishment,” says Puglisi, now an assistant professor of history at Vassar College.

Dartmouth officials—including Charlotte Johnson, dean of the College, and Maria Laskaris ’84, dean of admissions and financial aid—stopped by periodically and encouraged the protesters to leave. Hanlon issued a statement: “Progress cannot be achieved through threats and demands. Disrupting the work of others is counterproductive. Academic communities rest on a foundation of collaboration and open dialogue informed by respectful debate among multiple voices.” 

Students brought food to the protesters until Safety and Security officers told them to stop. “We were actually in the middle of coordinating with some people from the rock-climbing club to see if they could figure out a pulley system to get food up and through the window,” says Winham, an English and linguistics major who now works at the Poetry Society of New York.

On the morning of April 3, the protestors received a written promise from administrators to discuss their demands and conduct a campus climate survey—along with a guarantee there would be no disciplinary action. The students, drained, left the building that afternoon.

“The sit-in itself felt electric, like participating in history,” says Winham. “I am a goody two-shoes. I never got in trouble in high school. There was this element of fear and not knowing what’s going to happen, but also a sense of being on the right side, doing the right thing. The righteousness.” 

Óscar Cornejo Cásares ’17, now a doctoral fellow in sociology at Northwestern University, slept in the Parkhurst atrium during the sit-in. He feels the protest succeeded: The College eventually established liaisons for undocumented students in admissions, financial aid, counseling, and other offices. Hanlon, in his fall 2014 Convocation speech, emphasized the importance of recognizing and valuing the perspectives of undocumented students, veterans, and others who bring diverse experiences to campus. 

“With the collective input of student groups, you actually can have power to win something at the negotiation table,” says Bishop, who runs a nonprofit, Equity Research Cooperative, in Philadelphia.

The occupation fostered an informal, progressive alumni network that continues today, according to Winham. “When we were students, conservative students or even mainstream students had this alum network through frats or The Dartmouth Review,” she says. “As a leftist, it was harder to get information and support from alums.” 

More recently, Winham has helped students with unionization efforts and a project to revive the online Dartmouth Radical. Roan Wade ’25, one of two students arrested in October during yet another protest—this time on the Parkhurst lawn—in which students made demands of the administration, has contributed to the publication.

“These student movements fit into a long history of resistance to apartheid and class struggle at Dartmouth,” says Winham. “All of these involved students putting their bodies on the line and their academic careers at risk to take a moral stand.” 

During Puglisi’s first year teaching at Vassar, she was invited to the president’s office for tea. “As I followed her to the sitting area and picked out a teabag, I looked around and laughed to myself,” Puglisi says. “I’d been in college presidents’ offices before, but this was the first time I’d been invited.”                          

 

Charlie Pike, a former DAM intern, is a freelance writer in San Francisco.

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