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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Divest occupiers ordered out of the Weitz

On the morning of Sunday, October 30, Campus Security ordered Divest Carleton to end their occupation of the Weitz Center or face disciplinary action from the College. The group decided to comply with the order, ending their occupation of the Weitz Center after almost four days. 

The occupation of the Weitz started at 7 a.m. on Thursday, October 27 as a protest against the Board of Trustees as they met over Trustees’ Weekend. The occupation entailed eating, sleeping and living in the Weitz throughout the day and night.

Members of the group interacted with Trustees who were on their way to meetings in the Weitz, urging them to divest from fossil fuels and the military-industrial complex. Students held signs, chanted, and questioned trustees about the college’s inaction on divestment.

“Most of the board members just did their best to ignore us,” said Aashu Lele ’23, a Divest Carleton member. “They didn’t want to engage, and the ones that did were looking for a fight or looking to prove their point.”

Wally Weitz, chairman for the Board of Trustees and namesake for the Weitz Center, shared his thoughts about the occupation and interactions with students.

“As a product of the Vietnam era 60’s, I appreciate the energy and sincere passion of student protests,” said Weitz.  I thought the personal attacks on individual trustees before and during the weekend were out of line, but the vast majority were models of respectful, and appropriately insistent behavior.”

Divest Carleton member Eva Hadjiyanis ’23 responded to criticism about personal attack on trustees. “These are people who are supposed to represent us and our school, and when they do something bad the community should know about it,” said Hadjiyanis. “When the information is public, it’s not a personal attack, it’s public accountability.” 

For his part, Weitz went on to say that most trustees are “absolutely on student’s side, both in concern about climate change and in general as we try to make Carleton a great and accessible college,” and that he understands the frustration with the board’s historical response to requests for divestment.

Those requests were made loud and clear on Friday when Divest Carleton led a march of an estimated 100 students from Sayles Campus Center to the Weitz. The march culminated in the disruption of a Board of Trustees meeting, as members of Divest interrupted the meeting room to make speeches about divestment. 

“We marched over [to the Weitz] and went upstairs and chanted in the board meeting,” said Maya Stovall ’23. “A lot of energy went into the board meeting, a lot of passion and community frustration. It was really cool to see a lot of people go in, and really demystifying all of a sudden to be in the board meeting. We can confront power structures, we can build our own power structures, and that was all incredibly exciting.” 

Things turned sour for Divest Carleton after the Trustees left town on Saturday. The group had previously informed security services they would leave the Weitz by Saturday, October 29. However, following news that President Byerly would be making an announcement about the Board of Trustees divestment discussions, the group decided to stay until the announcement was made. 

Byerly’s announcement, which was broken by the Carletonian on October 31 but made official on November 3, revealed that the Board of Trustees will be voting on divestment at their February meeting. Divest Carleton was not aware of the content of the announcement nor when it would be released at the time of their occupation. 

After Divest Carleton announced over social media that it planned to stay longer than previously stated, they were informed by security services that they needed to be out of the Weitz by noon or face disciplinary action from the college for violating the college’s Freedom of Expression Policy

“The Divest Carleton group was occupying a space without permission while it was closed,” explained Director of Security John Bermel. “We do not allow students to stay overnight in nonresidential buildings. College administration made an exception to allow the occupation from Thursday to Saturday, during the Board meeting. When Divest Carleton indicated on social media they intended to stay past Saturday, the college extended the time frame, letting Divest Carleton know that they could have an extra night but would need to be gone by Sunday noon.” 

The statement posted to the Divest Carleton’s Instagram account regarding their removal from the Weitz mentioned that the occupation was ended “by order of the President of the college.” 

President Byerly commented on her role in the removal: “I noticed on their Instagram account they said [the decision] came personally from the President,” said Byerly. “I don’t know that that’s exactly fair.”

In a video shared with the Carletonian by Divest Carleton, President Byerly tells a member of Divest that “Carolyn (presumably referring to Dean of Students Carolyn Livingston) and others feel strongly that we need to be able to put the Weitz back in order.”  

President Byerly explained both in the video and in an interview with the Carletonian that the occupation was never actually allowed due to the college’s rules on staying overnight in non-residential spaces, but that administration chose to make an exception.

While there is no rule in the handbook which explicitly states that staying overnight in non-residential spaces is prohibited, director of Security John Bermel pointed to a section of the Carleton Student Handbook titled “Responsibilities to the College.” 

The relevant section prohibits “unauthorized use of college facilities, including but not limited to: Unauthorized access to or use of buildings and other facilities such as tunnels, roofs, the water tower, construction zones, and other prohibited areas.”

Bermel confirmed that staying overnight in non-residential spaces without permission is considered unauthorized access.

“I really was the one who had argued for making an exception to the rule,” said Byerly. “Security circled back to me and said, ‘Do you want to allow them to continue to stay?’, once the board meeting was over, the board had left, it didn’t really seem like there was a need for them to stay any longer.” 

On an Instagram post, Divest also wrote that “two of the potential punishments we could face… were suspension for the rest of the term and arrest by the Northfield police.” 

President Byerly clarified that the college would not involve the Northfield Police with the removal of any Carleton student. However, if someone occupying the Weitz was not a Carleton student, the police would be involved. She also noted that any potential suspensions would not be handled by her, but by the Dean of Students Office. 

Another video shared with the Carletonian by Divest Carleton records a conversation between the security officer who was informing the students they were ordered to leave and the students occupying the Weitz. In the video, the officer tells the students that if they refused to hand over their One Cards, the police would be called, and that would “have [the occupiers] removed from the building.” 

In regards to suspension, the officer tells the students that this is “100% speculation” but his guess is that they would be suspended the rest of the term as a disciplinary response. The occupiers then agreed to leave the Weitz.

“Divest has left Weitz, but we’re not leaving Carleton” reads a Divest Instagram post. “We are going to continue using our voices to communicate our demands until they are met – this is not the end.” 

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    Linda SoderstromNov 11, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    If y.all will fore warn or notify us how to Join DIVEST, I am happy to come camp with you in February. Or any other time. Marching, speaking, chanting, disrupting, leafleting, holding signs and did I mention disrupting?? It’s how we roll. LinSod 1972