On Wednesday, November 1st, students attended an all-day emergency sit-in outside of Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy’s office in Taylor Hall, which garnered the attention of ABC and CBS News.
Organized by the Bi-Co chapter of the Students for Justice in Palestine, the sit-in aimed to draw the administration’s attention to SJP’s demands, including some which called for transparency on the College’s financial investments, solidarity with Palestinian students, platforms for Palestinian speakers and artists, and immediate support for a ceasefire.
Although these demands were previously articulated in the October 25 walk-out rally, SJP felt that the Bryn Mawr administration had not acknowledged their demands, which prompted them to organize this sit-in to make their voices heard.
Tala Qaraqe, ‘25, a Palestinian student and member of Students for Justice in Palestine said “we were waiting for [President Cassidy] to come so we could tell her our demands and see how she’s going to respond to them.”
Students started the sit-in by putting up posters, but were soon met with backlash from administration and Campus Safety, who said they were breaching the poster policy. Later, as students began to chant, Dean Tomiko Jenkins informed them that they were only allowed to remain so long as they did not disrupt the classes happening in the building.
Dean Jenkins then told students that their chant ‘from the river to the sea’ was in violation of the Honor Code, and continuing to chant or use posters with the phrase would put them on Honor Trial.
She stated, “the chant that you’re sharing is considered against the Honor Code, and any posters that have ‘from the river to the sea,’ so if you chant that or post posters with that on them, you do violate the Honor Code.”
When asked what part of the Honor Code the slogan violated, Dean Jenkins responded that she understood the slogan to be antisemitic. As students attempted to explain their usage of the chant and its intended meaning, Dean Jenkins responded that she was not there to engage with them, and that any dialogue could occur in a scheduled meeting.
Given the urgency of the situation and the anxiety created amongst the student population, students were frustrated that they were unable to engage in immediate dialogue with administration or vocalize their cause. Further, attendees felt that Dean Jenkins’ response was aimed at silencing them as opposed to attempting to understand their perspectives, especially considering the severity of Honor Council violations.
The request for a scheduled meeting also stood in contrast to the response organizers had received from the administration thus far – SJP representatives had sent several emails to President Cassidy attempting to establish dialogue and convey student needs, but the administration did not respond over email.
When President Cassidy arrived at her office that morning, she told protestors that she never received any communication and stated that “we listen to dialogue, not demands.”
Despite President Cassidy’s prioritization of dialogue over protest, Bryn Mawr’s Civic Engagement website states that it “enthusiastically supports activism and grass roots organizing—and the students involved in working to influence change using these tactics—both on and off campus.”
A few minutes after her initial response, President Cassidy returned to apologize to students for failing to respond. Later conversations with the President would reveal that her staff had made the decision not to forward meeting requests without consulting her. The President then arranged to meet with student representatives from SJP at 5 PM that day, but over the course of the sit-in, students continued to face pushback from the administration.
Students temporarily dispersed when faced with the threat of Honor Trial from Dean Jenkins at 11 AM, but resumed shortly after. Around 3:00 PM, Dean Jenkins returned to address students, telling them that if a poster containing the slogan ‘from the river to the sea’ was not removed, they would face an Honor Trial.
“If you don’t want to remove the sign, then I do want you to know that for students that are here from Bryn Mawr, that that could escalate to or move forward a Dean’s Panel,” said Dean Jenkins.
“She kept acting like she was hearing and listening to what we were saying, but repeatedly defended her position that if we didn’t take the slogan down we would be punished,” said JS ‘24. Students repeatedly asked which part of the Honor Code they were in violation of, but did not receive an answer.
“It’s so interesting to see administration cracking down on students via the enforcement of college policy that they can’t even reference because it doesn’t support them, because that’s the only source of power that the administration can leverage over the student body,” adds JS.
While the sit-in did lead to conversation with President Cassidy, many left disheartened by how the administration received their advocacy efforts. Though students were outwardly assured that the College encouraged dialogue, the threat of punitive measures set the tone for tense communication between students and administration.