Written by David Roza ’15 and Katie Greifeld ’15. Additional reporting by Lee Anderson ’15. All photos by Ryan Gooding ’16.
Last Friday, hundreds of Tri-Co students, faculty, and staff gathered on Bryn Mawr’s campus in a demonstration of solidarity after two students insulted minority groups on campus by hanging a Confederate flag and drawing a Mason-Dixon line across their Radnor hallway.
“I am Latina, and knowing that there’s someone on campus who put up a Confederate flag hits pretty close to home,” said Olga Ramos BMC ‘16. “Historically, that [symbol] has oppressed black people, Latino people, all people of color in this country.”
The original incident took place during the week of September 8th. The students were asked by Bryn Mawr senior staff to take the Confederate flag down, but the students proceeded to hang it in their dorm room window. The flag’s continued presence on campus led to frustrations with the way the administration handled the issue, leading to Friday’s demonstrations.
“It took two weeks for [the administration] to even inform President Kim Cassidy, it took two weeks to get any response from the deans,” said Olga Ramos, BMC ‘16. “One of the deans said that it was actually okay for that girl to be racist, and that was not okay.”
The black-clad demonstrators formed a human chain that wrapped around Pembroke and Rockefeller Halls. They wore signs with hashtag phrases like “#IfIWere” and “#BecauseIAm” while chanting “It’s hate, not heritage,” and “Unsafe for any, unsafe for all,” to raise awareness of racial prejudice at Bryn Mawr.
“We’re basically going to stand in solidarity to make sure that there’s acknowledgement of race on campus,” said Nyasa Hendrix BMC ‘18, a member of the Tri-College NAACP Chapter. “We’re all standing together, no matter what race you are, just to show that we all care about this issue.”
The flag-hanging is the latest in a series of race-related incidents at Bryn Mawr. In February a student posted images of a stereotyped black man being chased by a large bird on the office door of Dr. Kalala Ngalamulume, a history professor from the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the student eventually apologized to the professor and said that she found the images humorous, some Bryn Mawr students thought the incident reflected poorly on the Bryn Mawr administration.
“That event was dealt with silently and the lack of education about it for the students, for the faculty, was pretty universal,” said Jo Dutilloy BMC ‘17.
“I didn’t know about it until this semester,” added her friend Emily Drummond BMC ‘17.
Haverford and Swarthmore students also attended the demonstration to stand in solidarity with their fellow Tri-Co members.
“It’s important that Swarthmore be here in solidarity, because Bryn Mawr was there for us when our [Intercultural Center] was pissed on for the fifth time,” said Swarthmore senior Julian Randall, referring to a March 2013 incident on Swarthmore’s campus. “We needed an administrative response, and when we needed bodies, Bryn Mawr was there. So when Bryn Mawr needed bodies, I was on the plan.”
The demonstration coincided with a Board of Trustees meeting that was held in preparation for the Saturday inauguration of President Kim Cassidy.
“We broke up the meeting so we could go and participate,” said Trustee Emeritus and Haverford graduate Jim Wood ‘50. “We joined hands and I got my sign here; ‘Let’s Talk Mawr.’ Everybody matters, that’s what Bryn Mawr is about and that’s what Haverford is about.”
The students who put up the flag sent an anonymous apology to the campus through the Dean’s Office the morning of the protest. “When we put up the flag, although we knew the associations, we did not know the extent of the impact and pain the flag would cause,” the students wrote. “We apologize for hanging a symbol of hate and for the subsequent impact.”
However, for the students holding hands on Friday, the demonstration was about more than taking down a flag.
“We need action, we need to write up in more codes — the Student Code of Conduct, the Athletic Code of Conduct, and the Honor Code — that says that this will not be tolerated,” said Ramos. “Not at Bryn Mawr College, and honestly, it shouldn’t be tolerated at any college.”
Good for the students, faculty and Board members who publicly and visibly joined hands and raised their voices in response to the immature and thoughtless expression by a couple of other students of a traditional symbol of racial intolerance. The right response to ignorant or offensive speech is always “more speech” — intelligent, sensitive and factual. But a community dedicated to intellectual freedom cannot tolerate punishment or prohibition of speech on the basis of the point of view expressed or the offense it causes, even (or especially) when most of us would abhor that particular point of view. While limiting the expression of unpopular opinions on a private campus is not illegal (as it would be, under the First Amendment, if the same limitations were imposed by government in the public sphere), it is still very much the wrong way to go.
– Peter Goldberger HC ’71 (President, ACLU of Greater Philadelphia)