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At the Second Sit-In: Reminders of Haverford’s Broken Promises, Optimism for the Future

Editor’s note: In our coverage of the strike, to protect students from doxxing, we continue to blur faces out and not include names.

Eight days after the first Founders Hall protest and a week after the campus-wide strike began, students reconvened on Founders Green on the evening of November 5 for a second sit-in. The sit-in came in the wake of President Raymond’s November 2 response to strike demands, deemed by organizers to be inadequate, and an open meeting earlier that day between a number of senior staff and student organizers.

Although turnout was lower than a week before, there were still hundreds of students chattering on the lawn. Organizers hung a sign on the porch of Founders Hall—a recreation of a 1977 poster that followed in the wake of the 1972 Black Students League protests—reading “Haverford: A Racist or a Quaker Institution?” One student, standing nearby on the grass, mused under her breath: “Those things are not mutually exclusive.”

Students take to Founders Green for the second sit-in on November 5

At 9:16 pm, organizers took to the microphone, beginning by reading an excerpt from a letter written in 1971 by the BSL to the Board of Managers, outlining nearly identical demands—such as calls for a more diverse CAPS staff and a required course on minority history—to the ones made over the past week. The organizers were clear: they are asking the school for changes that have been needed for generations. In light of this history, they said, President Raymond’s latest promises rung empty.

“This has been a struggle of false promises, otherwise known as bullshit!” shouted one organizer, reflecting on the lack of change from 1972 to today. “And I’m tired of it!” 

Speakers at the sit-in extended a couple of invitations to the community: first up, the new student- and faculty-led teach-ins which took place on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. “You have to learn the things Haverford won’t teach you,” said one organizer, encouraging students to utilize their newfound free time to educate themselves on the issues they’re engaged with by striking.

The next invitation was the announcement of student office hours held over Zoom, where organizers have pledged to answer questions about the strike. Students expressing reservations about the strike, privately and publicly, were also invited to attend their office hours to speak their minds.

Organizers speak from the steps of Founders Hall

After an interlude featuring a couple of songs off of Lizzo’s latest album, the speakers turned to what they deemed “the big stuff.”

They called attention to the dissent swirling around campus in opposition to the strike, some of which has accused the organizers of being bullies and silencing opposing views. The strike leaders also said that they had received a number of legal and physical threats from parents.

In response, the organizers rejected these claims outright, arguing that there is no “bullying” in fighting for their rights and that any community members who oppose the strike are actively preventing the implementation of what they deemed essential changes. They encouraged student attendees—particularly wealthy or white students—to combat this narrative and make sure their friends were not exacerbating the problem by potentially bullying others.

Then speakers turned to the open meeting with senior staff, held earlier in the day. Though the tone of the responses varied, one thing was clear: a feeling that the meeting was far from what it needed to be. Organizers found the bare-bones agenda—which merely listed the demands—insulting, and felt the administrators weren’t taking them seriously.

One organizer called the agenda “the most elementary pile of fucking trash I’ve ever seen” and said that their brother, a second grader, could have done better. Another was less harsh, but agreed that administrators “didn’t seem prepared” for the meeting. Yet he expressed a sense of optimism: “On a lot of the points, they agreed with us completely, and on the other points, they will agree with us by Sunday.”

With a final reminder to keep the pressure on administrators and faculty, the floor was opened for community members to come forward and speak. One Bryn Mawr student called for Haverford students to show support for Bryn Mawr’s recently-launched student strike by showing up to a sit-in on their campus on Friday. Others returned to discussing the 1972 strike, lamenting the lack of change.

In a particularly powerful moment, one organizer—emotion cracking in their voice—encouraged the community to continue striking: “Black students have been fighting for 48 years. This strike has lasted eight days.”

Photos from the 1972 Black Students League strike at Haverford

Before the sit-in dispersed, organizers took the microphone to celebrate one final development— on the call earlier that day, several members of the senior staff, including President Wendy Raymond and Provost Linda Strong-Leek, pledged to step down if the college does not fulfill its commitments to anti-racism. This announcement was met with applause from the audience.

Organizers reminded attendees of the two significant goals that the strike had already accomplished: the designation of Election Day as a holiday across the Tri-College Consortium and approval of a new program for students to see therapists unaffiliated with the school. At the rally, organizers said that Haverford would cover the cost of these off-campus appointments; judging from the master spreadsheet tracking their demands and the administration’s responses, it’s not completely clear whether the college has agreed.

These accomplishments were met with a spirit of celebration, which soon evolved into an impromptu dance party. Students stood up, helped themselves to remaining snacks, and talked amongst themselves. As numbers began to dwindle, organizers danced to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” on the steps of Founders Hall, celebrating the hard-earned progress they had made. Parting words by one, exclaimed into the microphone: “This is a great day!”

One Comment

  1. Frustrated Student November 8, 2020

    “Organizers found the bare-bones agenda—which merely listed the demands—insulting, and felt the administrators weren’t taking them seriously.” This complaint illustrates one of the central contradictions of the strike’s logic: on the one hand, it castigates the administration as racist and unresponsive. On the other, in failing to make its demand fully detailed until several days in and in complaining the lack of agenda items beyond the official demands, it seems to require that same administration to come up with some solution beyond what the strike organizers have provided. There’s nothing wrong with coming to the table without completely fleshed-out plans, but to call a strike with initially vague demands and expect your negotiating partner to come up with satisfactory answers on their own is absurd. If the strike is fundamentally about the demands, and not about one tone-deaf email, then it did not need to begin until the organizers decided exactly what they wanted from the college. It just goes to show the pitfalls of having strikes called by an unelected student group without any vote of approval by the student body.

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