Tuesday afternoon, on the seventh day of the sit-in at Founders, Dean McKnight stormed into the main hall to indignantly address the participants. He praised the patience of himself and the rest of the administration in dealing with the week-long occupation, as well as acknowledging the impasse at which student activists find themselves with Haverford higher-ups.
The inciting action to McKnight’s address was a move undertaken by a handful of participants late that morning. Frustrated with the administration’s ongoing apathy and inaction, pillows were stuffed into trash bags and placed outside President Raymond’s office, symbolizing the body bags that crowd the Gazan streets containing some of the 18,000+ Palestinian civilians that were murdered since October 7; the deaths towards which the administration has displayed nothing but a privileged apathy. This is a common form of nonviolent demonstration—it bears similarities to the “die-in” method of protesting, in which participants lie on the ground motionless to represent corpses. Accompanying the fake bodies were notes to President Raymond, encouraging her to call for a ceasefire and clarifying that this action was not meant to be interpreted as a threat to her or any other administrator.
These symbols served as the basis for Dean McKnight’s speech at the sit-in. He accused the participants of creating a hostile work environment, adding that several employees were afraid and crying in their offices as a result of this action. He said that if attendants had an issue with administration, they should target himself and President Raymond, not other college employees.
Of course, this is a transparently disingenuous request. This method of protest did target President Raymond—the fake bodies were left outside her office, after all. Further, this complaint exhibits a fundamental—and possibly willful—misunderstanding of the purpose of peaceful protests. McKnight laments the disruption caused by student action, yet that is the very objective of nonviolent demonstration: to cause disruption through non-aggressive means. If “peaceful protest” truly signified a total lack of disruption, as McKnight claims, it would be a completely toothless method due to the ease with which those in power may ignore it.
The accusation of creating a “hostile work environment” is equally farcical, and incredibly rich coming from an administration that refuses to do the bare minimum to recognize the human rights of their Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students. In the eyes of the administration, it seems, a mild form of protest is a greater sin than creating a hostile environment for marginalized communities.
Nowhere in Dean McKnight’s tirade was there even the slightest acknowledgement of the failings of the administration in the handling of this crisis. In fact, it was quite the opposite: he expressed feeling hopeful about reaching a compromise after a meeting that occurred this past Friday, December 8th, when organizers of the sit-in met with him and President Raymond. This cheerful outlook was not shared by the organizers. In this meeting, President Raymond and Dean McKnight made a series of promises: the President would give an update on a potential response to the prioritized demands of the sit-in by Monday, December 11th , while Dean McKnight would send a draft of an apology to event coordinators regarding his allowance of a student to misuse the hc-allstudents email list by the same date. Because neither of these promises were kept, and no updates were provided to the organizers, the fake bodies were placed outside of President Raymond’s office more than 24 hours after the deadline had passed to reiterate student commitment to the cause.
We, as student activists, were told we crossed a line. But perhaps if the sight of real Palestinian corpses disturbed administration as much as fake ones did, we would not have had to occupy Founders to begin with. The myopic lens of administration’s immense elitist privilege has distorted any form of valid resistance into rabble-rousing that must be quashed. Peaceful occupation of Founders, without any damage caused to property, without posing any threat to the employees who work there, and without any hazardous or otherwise unsavory behavior, should not be treated so harshly. Student organization forms a cornerstone of this college and its history, as does activism at both the student and administrative levels. In the midst of the Vietnam War, Haverford President John Coleman gathered the signatures of 79 college presidents on a letter to President Nixon calling for the end of hostilities. One can only imagine Coleman’s reaction if he could see what has become of the office he once used to further humanitarian causes and amplify the voices of his students.
This college prides itself on Quaker values of nonviolence and peaceful activism, but the administration is making it abundantly clear how little those values truly mean to them. I ask of this college, if calling for a ceasefire—a cessation of violence, by definition—is not something they are willing to do, how can we pride ourselves on Quaker values any longer? It is apparent that their commitment to these values only goes as far as lip service. When it comes to the actual implementation of taking a stance on nonviolence in real-world conflicts, their silence tells us everything we need to know about the extent of their professed love of student self-advocacy and free speech.