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Members of the 2023-24 Students' Council at the Emergency Plenary opening town hall. Photo courtesy of Jillian Aguilar '25.

Sparse Attendance, Strong Support: Recap of Emergency Plenary’s Opening Town Hall

By Paeton Smith-Hiebert and Cade Fanning

Note: All student participants in the Q&A and pro/con debate portion of the Opening Town Hall are identified only by their class years in order to maintain anonymity. 

On the evening of Thursday, February 29th, students gathered in Marshall Auditorium and over Zoom for the first of two town halls of Emergency Plenary, which would see the presentation of the ceasefire resolution. 

Despite the intended 7:30 p.m. start time, a ten-minute delay was announced to accommodate the students trickling in. The presentation of the town hall’s guidelines commenced at 7:41 p.m. to a sparse crowd of students, with Dean McKnight also present.

Following a brief introduction of the Students’ Council members overseeing the Emergency Plenary process, Co-Presidents Jorge Paz Reyes ‘24 and Maria Reyes Pacheco ‘24 cited the portion of the Constitution of Students’ Association that outlines the procedure of an emergency plenary. They emphasized the necessity of using Haverford structures like plenary to unify the student body, and expressed their belief that student government must take action in the name of nonviolence.

Paz Reyes and Reyes Pacheco mentioned extensive efforts to incorporate student feedback both in the drafting of the resolution and the amendment process. The goal of the resolution, they explained, was to encourage and embolden student advocacy and collective action at Haverford and beyond.

The Co-Presidents briefly explained the rules of Emergency Plenary before introducing the Community Guidelines for the town hall, written with input from Dr. Nikki Young, Vice President for Institutional Equity and Access. Then, the presentation of the resolution itself began.

Because Paz Reyes and Reyes Pacheco were presenting the resolution, the Co-Vice Presidents of Students’ Council, Grant DeVries ’26 and Kabir Hinduja-Obregon ’26, chaired until the resolution presentation concluded.

The Co-Presidents stood ready at a podium adjacent to the Students’ Council, accompanied by representatives from the boards of the three co-sponsoring student organizations. After the Co-Presidents read the resolution aloud, the representatives introduced themselves and their reasoning for co-sponsoring. Representatives from the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Muslim Students Association (MSA) boards emphasized the severity of the situation in Israel/Palestine, citing the increasing numbers of Israeli and Palestinian casualties and the unlawful detention of civilians. They called for collective action from academic peers, communities, and elected officials. A representative from the Jewish Student Union (JSU) board underscored the resolution’s alignment with the college’s Quaker values.

Following the resolution presentation, Hinduja-Obregon outlined the Q&A protocol, with 15 minutes allocated as per constitutional guidelines. The community guidelines were projected behind the Students’ Council for the duration of the Q&A as a reminder.

A sophomore inquired about the resolution’s potential impact on student activism and its tangible effects. In response, Reyes Pacheco highlighted the resolution’s potential to sustain dialogue and engagement, while Paz Reyes emphasized the resolution’s role in showcasing community unity and dialogue despite differing viewpoints.

“I think we noticed in the past semester, a lot of these conversations have died out as some people have the privilege to ignore what is going on,” said Reyes Pacheco. “By having the space to show what respectful dialogue can look like even when you disagree with someone … The goal is that it can create a trickle effect where people continue to engage with this issue.”

A junior questioned the disparity between the resolution projected on the screen and the version read aloud. Pacheco Reyes clarified the error, affirming the accuracy of the resolution in the Plenary packet. Because no questions were asked over Zoom, Hinduja-Obregon concluded the Q&A portion, allowing DeVries to transition to the pro/con debate, which similarly allowed 15 minutes for both in-person and virtual participants to contribute.

The pro/con debate saw an overwhelming majority of students in the auditorium speaking in favor of the resolution, despite DeVries’ repeated call for opposing perspectives, while no students participated over Zoom. Notably, several Jewish students voiced their support for the resolution, claiming support to be “our duty as students and citizens of the world,” as well as highlighting the importance of dialogue and open communication.  

One student, a senior, emphasized the historical effectiveness of similar resolutions in effecting change, stressing the importance of not allowing injustices to pass silently.

Following three minutes of silence, DeVries called for the end of the pro/con debate. However, Paz Reyes requested that the floor remain open, recognizing that students with opposing viewpoints may have difficulty presenting their opposition.

After a few additional moments of silence, a sophomore from the balcony requested to present another pro argument. Reading from a prepared statement, the student advocated for the resolution based on the symbolic presence of the Haverford College Peace Garden and Peace Pole, representative of the college’s values.

They went on to encourage others to speak: “To my fellow Jewish students: please, if you have something to say, say it. We have wanted dialogue for so long, so if you have something to say please say it,” proceeding to quote Isaiah 2:4. They concluded their statement with a simple call: “Support this resolution.”

A sophomore MSA member affirmed their support for the resolution whilst expressing concern over Gazan citizens being denied the right to observe the approaching month of Ramadan, emphasizing the power of the student association’s call for a ceasefire in aiming to ensure religious freedom and safety for all, regardless of faith.

Immediately before the closing of the pro/con debate, a junior approached the mic, beginning by acknowledging the tragedy of the last five months, specifically highlighting the significant loss of Jewish lives on October 7th and the subsequent violence in Gaza, resulting in a “horrifically large” death toll. The student emphasized the undeniable tragedy and loss experienced by both sides and described some of the images coming out of Gaza as “conscience-shocking.”

The student continued, recognizing the importance of empathy and dialogue promoted by the resolution but criticizing its failure to address both sides of the conflict adequately. Specifically, they objected to the absence of a call for the release of hostages, opposing the resolution for lacking “parallel language.” The audience’s applause for the student’s conclusion was noticeably less enthusiastic compared to the previous statements supporting the topic.

Following the junior’s statement, DeVries closed the debate, inviting the Co-Presidents to address the concerns raised. Paz Reyes expressed gratitude for the students’ engagement, noting its valuable contributions to the resolution. He highlighted the challenge of reconciling diverse community perspectives to create a text agreeable to all groups involved in the drafting process. Paz Reyes emphasized the resolution’s sole focus on advocating for a ceasefire, acknowledging limitations in addressing the conflict’s complexities, while reiterating a commitment to peace and standing by Haverford’s Quaker values.

After Paz Reyes’ statement, Hinduja-Obregon invited the Co-Presidents to conclude the town hall. In their concluding statements, the Co-Presidents expressed gratitude for student participation in the discussion, highlighting the importance of silence for genuine listening and understanding. The Co-Presidents viewed the town hall as a starting point for such interactions and encouraged ongoing adherence to the discussion guidelines. They announced the voting form would be open until Sunday, when another town hall with additional Q&A and debate would occur. With that, they formally adjourned the town hall, less than an hour after it began.

The MSA and JSU representatives were surprised by the lack of vocal opposition to the resolution discussed at the town hall meeting, especially from members of the “Concerned Jewish Students” group, who had created an Instagram account in the days leading up to Emergency Plenary to reiterate Bi-Co Chabad’s calls for abstention from the process, claiming potential for student division. The “Concerned Jewish Students” group is also known on campus for their controversial November 9th email to Haverford students and their speaker series, “Jewish Conversations.”

The MSA representative was pleased about the diverse support for the resolution, but voiced unease about the effect that low student turnout at the town hall may have on quorum. The JSU representative shared concerns about low attendance, citing potential student apathy. However, both remained hopeful that outreach efforts such as tabling in the DC will garner enough support for the resolution.

“I was … really inspired by all the speakers who voiced their opinions in [support] of the resolution,” they said. “I am optimistic that we will be able to pass this resolution and set a historic precedent for the college.”

Note: The names of the JVP, MSA, and JSU Representatives were removed due to privacy and safety concerns.

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