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Three Days into the Student Strike, the Organizers Have the Momentum

Editor’s note: In light of the student strike, The Clerk has elected to halt our normal news coverage. However, we will continue our coverage of the strike and related events to highlight the activism of BIPOC students, their demands, and the overall need for institutional change. Staff members will be donating compensation for these articles to local mutual aid organizations.

In the wake of the Founders Hall march on October 28, the majority of Haverford’s student body went on strike to protest the killing of Walter Wallace Jr. by police in Philadelphia and the response to Wallace’s death by Haverford’s administration.

Strike organizers sent out an email to all students on the afternoon of October 29, linking to a document entitled “HC STRIKE 2020 STATEMENT & DEMANDS”. Students were asked to commit to the strike by halting their involvement with any college-related activities, including attending classes, working on-campus jobs, and participating in extracurriculars or athletics.

The email was signed by Women of Color House, Black Students Refusing Further Inaction—the authors of the June open letter to the presidents of both Bi-Co schools—the Black Student League, and “every single BIPOC student this institution has failed”.

In their statement, the strike organizers criticized the email sent by President Raymond and Dean Bylander on October 28 that asked students not to attend the protests over Wallace’s death in Philadelphia, calling the administration’s message “a continuation of a long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices that have come to characterize the experiences of students of color at Haverford.”

Given Haverford’s public support for anti-racism and social justice work, the organizers found it hypocritical that the administration opted not to support student protesters, especially since the college often touts its proximity to Philadelphia. “You are not only silencing our voices and preventing us from protesting the violence enacted on Black people,” they wrote, “but actively stopping us from reinforcing the dignity and humanity of Black lives by showing up for community members down the street.”

The organizers rejected President Raymond and Dean Bylander’s calls for students to instead make their voices heard on Election Day, arguing that only abolition, not electoral politics, can bring about racial equality. They pointed out that Wallace was killed by police in Philadelphia, which has long been controlled by Democrats.

“This campus can’t run without BIPOC,” wrote the organizers, framing the strike as an opportunity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) students to demand institutional change by making the school grind to a halt.

Below the statement, the organizers listed twelve demands for President Raymond and Dean Bylander. First up: the resignation of Wendy Raymond as Chief Diversity Officer—a role she holds concurrently with that of President of the College—and her replacement with a BIPOC Chief Diversity Officer.

Two days after the Founders Hall protest, President Wendy Raymond issued her first response to the strike, agreeing to some of the organizers’ demands and pledging that she would send a more-depth statement next week.

President Raymond noted that her term as Chief Diversity Officer would be expiring on July 1, 2021, and promised to announce the appointment of a replacement on or before that date. It’s not clear whether this will entail an entirely new position or the expansion of an existing administrator’s portfolio; in President Raymond’s July response to the BSRFI letter, she had said that either option was possible.

With the endorsement of the faculty and the Staff Association Executive Committee, President Raymond approved the second item: an Election Day holiday for students and staff (a change that had already been implemented by Swarthmore’s president). She noted that some hourly, non-exempt staff would continue to work on Tuesday but would receive holiday pay.

Organizers also demanded that Haverford continue to pay students who are on strike and that the college not retaliate against any strike participants. President Raymond agreed to this issue as well, announcing that students on strike would be compensated for up to 20 hours of pre-scheduled work.

Returning to one of the issues that had ignited the Founders Hall protest, the administration agreed to support student protesters by providing no-questions-asked COVID testing for students who may have been exposed while in public. “For those opting to strike or protest, we trust that you will do so while remaining socially distanced and masked as best you can,” wrote President Raymond.

Yet many of the items within the organizers’ statement went unanswered in President Raymond’s response. These included calls for the college to end any relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department, endorse police and prison abolition, and divest from prison labor.

In the realm of academics, the organizers had proposed better support for faculty of color and the creation of a new framework for holding problematic professors accountable. A past attempt by the student body to expand the reach of the Academic Honor Code during the Honor Code Crisis of 2018 was met with resistance from the faculty and administrators over concerns surrounding academic freedom and legal liability.

President Raymond also did not respond to the demand for academic leniency for BIPOC and first-generation/low-income (FGLI) students who have suffered from the effects of the pandemic and police violence. Thus far, that process has generally been left up to the discretion of individual faculty, which the statement says has allowed many professors to “flatly ignore” the needs of students of color.

Two other demands that President Raymond has not yet addressed were items X and XI, which called for more support for disabled students as well as queer and trans students of color. Among the proposed changes under these headings are the hiring of more LGBTQ+ and BIPOC staff at Counseling and Psychological Services. However, some students questioned the push to end mandatory reporting—a duty imposed by federal and state law—and to require the permission of students before involving campus safety in mental health crises.

“If a student is having a mental health crisis or feels suicidal, they would probably not consent to calling Campus Safety or having anybody else involved for various reasons,” said one student, who asked to remain anonymous. “However, only having friends and family know about these issues is also dangerous for the student and puts an unhealthy amount of stress and responsibility on those friends and family—especially since sometimes these situations require physical restraint to stop someone from harming themself.”

The student suggested that a more effective solution might involve the creation of a mental health crisis team on campus.

Finally, while President Raymond acknowledged the work of “the organizers (students in Women of Color House) and many others (including students from Black Students Refusing Further Inaction, the Black Student League, and entire networks of BIPOC students)” in her email, she did not specifically address the demand to “honor and credit the work of Black women driving institutional change.” During the Founders Hall protest, several speakers noted that Haverford had previously failed to credit the work of BSRFI in crafting anti-racist policies at the college in their public materials, including in the alumni magazine. How Haverford would ensure Black women receive their due credit, however, is somewhat unclear, as the demand does not specify concrete actions.

President Raymond stated her intention to write a more comprehensive response next week, within the two-week window laid out by the organizers to address these demands.

As of Saturday, October 31, it seems that most of the Haverford community has heeded the call for a student strike. Many professors cancelled class on Thursday and Friday, and those who did not were often greeted with sparse attendance. Thus far, over 700 students and two dozen faculty have signed a pledge to uphold the strike until President Wendy Raymond and Interim Dean of the College Joyce Bylander agree to the organizers’ demands.

Although there was some early confusion around whether continuing to do coursework counts as crossing the picket line, a consensus seems to have developed that it does. A post from the organizers’ Instagram account captured the mood, stating that “STRIKING in Solidarity with the BIPOC community at Haverford is NOT a time for rest NOR asynchronous schoolwork.”

Nevertheless, conversations have revealed that some students, even those who signed in support of the strike, are continuing to do coursework. One student who spoke on the condition of anonymity deemed this “disingenuous and hypocritical.” Another was less harsh, but commented, “Even if you’re doing your own assignments, that means you’re getting ahead of your peers.”

Like the calls for the Founders Hall protest, information about the student strike spread rapidly across the college, particularly via Instagram accounts like @hc_strike that gave students the ability to repost to their stories guidelines on how to strike, links to the Bi-Co Mutual Aid network, and alternatives to the Dining Center and the Coop.

Caption: Two examples of Instagram posts from the strike organizers

Bi-Co Mutual Aid, which launched in September, saw a massive surge in donations, raising over $70,000 in the 48 hours after the protest. According to the group, the funds will be used to pay students for wages lost during the strike, purchasing food supplies, and supporting the protests in Philadelphia. Fundraising efforts were so successful that late on Friday night, in light of the amount of money raised, Bi-Co Mutual Aid asked the community to redirect their contributions to Philadelphia community organizations or to the Haverford Strike fund.

The Students’ Council Treasurers, Lisette Pham ’23 and Rasaaq Shittu ’23, announced they would also reimburse students who financially support the strike—by purchasing communal groceries or protest supplies, for example—out of StuCo funds. According to the Treasurers’ email, legal restrictions prohibit StuCo from directly donating to the Mutual Aid fund.

Alongside promoting direct financial support, strike organizers told students to avoid eating at the Coop so as not to overburden Haverford staff while student workers strike. While there was some initial confusion over whether this recommendation applied to the Dining Center as well, an October 31 strike update clarified that eating at the DC “is not an act that crosses the picket line.” Dining Services General Manager Tom Mitchell confirmed in an October 30 email that the DC would be able to feed students during the strike.

However, the organizers suggested that students living in the Apartments avoid the DC, if possible, in favor of alternatives. Students with the financial means to do so were encouraged to buy their own food, while BIPOC and FGLI students have first dibs on The Nest, Haverford’s food pantry. Other food options open to all students include The Burrow Café, Haverford’s student-run, pay-what-you-can café that emerged in the wake of the strike; various groups on campus such as Ehaus and Quaker House have also been putting meals together.

Supplies are available at The Nest, Haverford’s food pantry. (Image courtesy of The Nest.)

In the update sent via email on Saturday afternoon, strike organizers announced that they will be hosting a student Town Hall over Zoom on Sunday, November 1, which will address ways in which both on-campus and remote students can support the strike. The message also contained a link to a form that students can use to submit questions for the Town Hall. A separate Town Hall with faculty is scheduled for Monday, November 2nd, also to be held on Zoom.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous November 1, 2020

    Just a comment expressing concern for a general attitude that “if you’re not with us you’re against us” in the strike. 767 or so students actively support the strike, leaving roughly 450 who have not signed up. 40% of the Haverford population has chosen not to sign on to the movement, yet it is difficult to openly express, in any way, dissent about any portion of the strike. In the wake of a tide of anger, room for conversation has been squeezed out. There is no open debate over the strike. Period. Either one is seen as supporting it and all of its goals, or they condone racism. Stark terms, an “us” vs “them.” It is concerning as a student that open dissent is punished, and feels less than Haverfordian in its inflexibility for respectful disagreement.

  2. Rufus Jones November 2, 2020

    What is the value of a college where only one view is tolerated and conformity demanded? Will people choose to invest in an institution that cannot function? If you believe police engagement protocols are flawed, then research the issues, talk to people on all sides (including the police), study the database of police interactions, analyze the tradeoffs and advocate for change at the places where policy is made. That earns you the right to influence the world. Burning it down is a short-term sugar high that ultimately gives you little more than the status quo. Shutting down the classroom does not advance the cause.

    • A neighbor November 3, 2020

      Well said, the strikers are obviously intelligent as Haverford students, but they don’t appear to have the maturity to address the issue(s) in anything but a superficial manner. In the meantime, they’re learning something about organizing and some about leadership, but otherwise they’re wasting their time and the time of others, including those who wish to continue to be educated.

  3. Disappointed Student November 2, 2020

    What does the Clerk hope to achieve by suppressing dissenting views about the strike? The campus discourse bespeaks a stunning level of moral certainty and a chilling inability to imagine that any thinking person could come to any conclusion but one. A movement that does not tolerate criticism of itself is always a threat to justice, and as a student I’m embarrassed not to have a newspaper that refuses to publish views that oppose orthodoxy.

    • A neighbor November 3, 2020

      Very well said. Groupspeak and groupthink can be frightening.

    • A neighbor November 3, 2020

      Not really sure, but it has suppressed two of my reasonable comments now.

      • A neighbor November 3, 2020

        Well it released them now.

  4. Not a student anymore November 5, 2020

    There is a wonderful thing called a court of law. If you, as a student, can show loss, you can sue. 400+ students paying about $70K a year to sit around doing nothing is a financial loss, and not a small one.

    This is what happens in the real world, so try it.

  5. A neighbor November 6, 2020

    I see that my comments / replies have been removed again. There is certainly nothing offensive in them. Why?

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