As students protest, Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges put new joint chief of police on leave

  • The Grecourt Gates of Smith College on Elm Street in Northampton. FILE PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING 

  • Estelle Yiam, a sophomore, speaks at a protest on Smith College’s campus, Thursday, after Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges’ newly appointed joint chief of police was put on administrative leave.  STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Julieta, one of the organizers of a protest on Smith College's campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school's police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Kathleen McCartney, the president of Smith College listens as students speaks at a protest on Smith College's campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school's police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Katleen McCartney, the president of Smith College listens as students speaks at a protest on Smith College's campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school's police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • About 500 people gathered at a protest on Smith College's campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school's police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • About 500 people gathered at a protest on Smith College’s campus Thursday, the day after the school’s police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • About 500 people gathered at a protest on Smith College's campus Thursday, April 11, 2019, the day after the school's police chief was put on paid leave amid student concerns over his past social media activity. The student organizers presented demands that the college better support marginalized students. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/11/2019 11:20:13 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Smith and Mount Holyoke colleges have placed their newly appointed joint chief of police on administrative leave as students protest across campus.

In an email to the college on Wednesday evening, Smith College President Kathleen McCartney said that members of the campus community “have voiced a lack of trust” in Daniel Hect, who took over as chief of the two campuses’ shared police department on Feb. 18. McCartney announced that Deputy Campus Police Chief Ray LaBarre, who served as interim chief prior to Hect’s arrival, has been named acting chief.

“We are working together with Mount Holyoke on next steps,” McCartney wrote in the email. “I pledge to keep the campus community informed.”

Students recently drew attention to a few posts they say Hect previously had “liked” on Twitter, including one instructing President Donald Trump to “BUILD THAT WALL!” and another in which the National Rifle Association wishes people a Merry Christmas. Hect’s Twitter profile has since been deleted.

In a statement posted on their websites, however, both colleges say that Hect’s social media posts were not the reason Hect has been placed on paid leave. The colleges said that during the hiring process, they do not take into account political beliefs or personal views expressed on social media, adding that it is not standard practice for either school to review applicants’ social media accounts.

“We are reviewing several concerns and cannot comment further on personnel issues,” the statement on Mount Holyoke College’s website reads.

Smith College students led protests earlier this year after a staffer called campus police on a black student worker who was taking her lunch break. An independent law firm hired by the college later cleared that staffer of any wrongdoing, but in the wake of the incident and the subsequent demonstrations, Smith organized a series of diversity and inclusion initiatives.

One of those initiatives was an Inclusion and Diversity Conference. Classes and extracurricular activities were canceled on Wednesday so that the whole campus could take part in the conference, which has been in the works since December and included a presentation from campus police on policing a diverse community.

That presentation soon turned into a protest against Hect, according to reporting from the college’s student newspaper, The Sophian. 

Protests continued on campus Thursday afternoon when hundreds of students held a sit-in at John M. Greene Hall.

“We are just fed up,” sophomore Julieta, an organizer who declined to give her last name because of her immigration status, said ahead of the rally. 

The rally was organized by the group Students for Social Justice and Institutional Change, or SSJIC. Originally formed to organize for the rights of undocumented students, SSJIC has expanded to a coalition that includes other students of color and low-income students.

The coalition presented a list of 28 demands to Smith’s administration, including specific demands from undocumented students, students of color, low-income and trans students. Among their demands to Smith: hiring a mental health professional trained to help undocumented students, expanding the college’s “affinity housing” pilot program to include a house specifically for black students, providing free laundry and menstrual hygiene products for all students, and changing the admissions policies “to officially recognize and welcome all transgender students.”

The group also proposed reforms to Smith’s curriculum, health services, accessibility and policing.

Julieta, who is herself undocumented, said the protest previously had been planned because the college has not met many of the demands that students of color have been making for a long time. But the controversy over Hect coincided with the demonstration, she said.

Speaking of Smith’s hiring choice, “You explicitly supported somebody who thinks I’m an ‘illegal,’” Julieta said to the Gazette. “That’s not fair to me, and that’s not fair to my friends … Smith should have been more conscious about that.”

Speaking in front of the approximately 500 people gathered, another of the event’s organizers — a sophomore who is undocumented and declined to give her name — said she is fearful. “I shouldn’t be up here,” she said.

“I feel unsafe with Daniel Hect being police chief on this campus,” she continued. As for the group’s broader demands, she said to Smith’s leaders: “I want you to fight for us and care for us, like we deserve.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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