Photo courtesy of Julien Davis

OPINION: UNH’s Free Speech Opposition Shows Failure to Learn From History

James Oatis


Staff Writer


Throughout the United States education system, one of the major justifications for learning history, civics, and social studies is to avoid repeating the same mistakes older generations made. The actions of New Hampshire Law Enforcement at UNH and Dartmouth make it clear that those universities do not adhere to this wise and time-tested advice. They blatantly disregarded the state and federal constitutions with the arrest of student journalists. Their crowd control methods incite more violence as they attack the citizens they are sworn to protect.

In history and English literature classes, many curriculums include Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience,” which has laid out the blueprint for non-violent action against the government. Examples such as Gandhi’s Salt March and Rosa Parks refusing to leave her seat are all non-violent violations of unjust laws. The students of UNH who camped in front of Thompson Hall knew they were breaking the law. Though they were expecting to get arrested, they were not expecting to get physically attacked by the police and state troopers with extreme force. It is clear the UNH administration completely forgot about Kent State, where, 54 years ago, the National Guard murdered unarmed protesters in Kent, Ohio. ACLU-NH summarized it best: “Use of police force against protestors should never be a first resort.”

UNH’s actions are unconstitutional and hypocritical. Both the state constitution and federal constitution enshrine the rights to freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The policy of anti-encampment by UNH is easily arguable as unconstitutional due to the fact UNH is public land. Taxpayers fund UNH, meaning the constitution must apply as it is a public university. Their current policies contradict the document it is required to uphold. The most blatant violation was the arrest of Dartmouth Journalists covering the protests. Charlotte Hampton and Alesandra Gonzalez, who had press identification, were arrested by Hanover Police: a clear violation of freedom of the press. 

The United States is a nation built on freedoms enshrined in the constitution, and law enforcement’s recent actions have made this country seem closer to oppressive nations like Russia, China, and North Korea. I hope that UNH and Dartmouth may take this event as a learning experience and improve policy to avoid conflicts like this in the future.