Response to a Concerned Group of Students

Response to a Concerned Group of Students

By DisruptHaverford

The post below is a response submitted by a student who requested to appear under the moniker DisruptHaverford on behalf of the student and a group of peers. The post is structured as a response to to the post ‘Why I Oppose the Strike.’ The original letter is in bold, DisruptHaverford’s response isn’t.

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This morning, a printed letter titled “Hearing Other Voices at Haverford” was posted and placed all across campus, including dorms, libraries, and the Black Cultural Center. The letter presented a critique of the strike, and the “problematic atmosphere” the authors believed it had created. Written by “A Group of Concerned Haverford Students”, the piece provided elementary, yet possibly widely held beliefs among those who are in opposition to the strike. In response, we have crafted a rebuttal that addresses the points that are present within the letter, which is also included within this email. As the authors stated:

“We hope that the student body will have a fair chance to read this material and will not again be denied the opportunity to judge all opinions of the strike on a level playing field.”

We are providing that fair chance through the means of this email. We encourage you to read the letter if you have not already done so, and to read our rebuttal. We understand that some of the rhetoric in the original letter is deeply problematic and possibly triggering for BIPOC and FGLI students. This is a Content Warning a lot of the language used in the email references: reverse-racism, gaslighting, tone policing, as well as adopting the rhetoric used often by centrists and right-wing reactionaries to delegitimize protesting and equitable treatment. We are not responding to this letter to grant it legitimacy, but to correct cherry-picked information and flat out lies. Please read with caution and consideration in mind.

Hearing Other Voices at Haverford

An article was submitted by a Haverford student going by the pseudonym “Publius” to the clerk and Bi-Co News over the weekend, which made an argument against the current strike on Haverford’s campus. The Bi-Co News stated that they were unwilling to publish the article for the duration of the strike. The Clerk, while willing to agree to the article’s publication, provided the author reveal their identity, claimed that much of the argument expressed was “problematic” and would have to be edited out. Since Haverford’s publications are placing limits on the right to free speech on campus, we have been forced to take matters into our own hands. This is one of many opinions being silenced on campus, not just by the press but in social, academic, and extracurricular circles. We hope this will offer Haverford students, faculty, and administration the opportunity to hear from a variety of voices, and not just those curated by biased journalistic campus institutions. We hope that the student body will have a fair chance to read this material and will not again be denied the opportunity to judge all opinions of the strike on a level playing field.

It’s okay if you don’t agree with all or any of the points in the article. That’s the essence of honest discussion and debate. You don’t need to oppose the demands or the spirit of the strike to recognize the problematic atmosphere of silence and exclusion it has caused. But please, if you read this article, amidst the overwhelming flow of voices expressing why the strike is necessary to respond to harm that has been done to students on campus, take a comment to consider those who are being deeply damaged by the intensity of repression taking place in the last few days. And though it may be hard in an environment such as the one we find ourselves in today — witness the fact that we had to physically drop paper all over the school in order for these perspectives to be shared at all — it makes a huge difference to allow some space for those voices. We as the student body have the capacity for disagreement, for conversation, foran open-minded and generous conversation, held in good faith of all speakers no matter their beliefs. This was written by a group of students who care deeply about this college and every student in it; we, much like those organizing and participating in the strike, hope our efforts will bring positive change on campus.

Signed,

A Group of Concerned Haverford Students

Dear Group of Concerned Haverford Students,

            We want to remind you that while you have felt silenced over the past four days, BIPOC students, particularly Black and Brown women and LGBTQIA+ people,  have felt silenced by the institution, administration, classroom settings, and group settings for a long time– not to mention the silencing that takes place beyond the institution in the realms of everyday life. The deep damage you report that students have experienced due to “repression taking place” is nothing in comparison to the costs of systemic racism. Only one of the two is a concern, one that is too often a matter of life and death. In order to have any semblance of an “honest discussion and debate”– not that supporting and uplifting the lives of BIPOC students and people is a debate anyway– you first need to recognize the reality and truth of the systems in place that continue to subjugate BIPOC people physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. The existence of your resistance does not warrant it immediate validity; nor does your effort to plaster the campus with your message provide it legitimacy. No one “forced” you to “physically drop paper all over the school.” In fact, the organizers of the strike did not reach out to any publications on campus to tell students that a strike was ensuing. Instead, we released a public email to everyone on campus. The capacity of the student body to have disagreement should not be extended to the discussion of the discrmination and subjugation of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ people. In contrast, Haverford has more than shown its capacity to ignore, disregard, and push aside the plight of marginalized peoples: on and off this campus. What can be called into question is your silence during the years of labor to combat the structural racism present within Haverford; whose burden was carried on the backs of Black and Brown women. Your vocality now speaks to your need to shut down progress and discussion, rather than being the ones who start it. The “problematic atmosphere of silence and exclusion” you mention only remains an obstacle for those who choose to remain silent in the face of systemic racism and exclude themselves from the efforts of BIPOC students on this campus. It is not the responsibility nor duty of organizers to suit the needs of your “progressive” pallet, one that has shown its taste for derision and ignorance.

Why I Oppose the Strike

When I first decided to come to Haverford during my senior year of high school, it was because of Haverford’s commitment to the values of trust, concern, and respect. Trust, to me, meant assuming the best of intentions among your fellow community members, and believing in their inherent goodwill. Concern meant being cognizant of those around you, and being considerate of their emotions and well-being. Respect meant a sense of reverence for every member of our community and their inherent value, regardless of their views or characteristics. These values, I believed, were not enforced by a higher authority, but agreed upon by each member of the community, indicative of our care for one another.

This view of Haverford, as an idealistic utopia, was shaken for me early in my time at this college, and has now been completely crushed. It was destroyed by my horror at the rhetoric and actions over the course of the current strike, a strike that, while it claims to be in support of ending police brutality and protecting people of color, has done more to divide our campus and vilify members of our community than anything I have witnessed during my time at the college. While I stand against police brutality and racial injustice, I feel that the current strike makes these points secondary to forcing other students to agree with all of their conceptions, actions, and demands without objection.

It is quite telling that during a time of national (might we add global) unrest in response to police brutality and State violence, financial insecurity exacerbated by the pandemic and predatory systems we live in, and historical injustices against Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color, you are unable to live up to values of “trust, concern, and respect.” You clearly know the definitions of these words; yet, you are unable to enact them when the time calls for it. We want to remind you that what happens on campus is a symptom of what is happening beyond this institution. Yet, you choose to reproduce the very structures and systems that oppress and subjugate BIPOC by championing free speech over the actual lives of human beings. You cannot claim to stand against racial injustice and police brutality if you do not understand why we strike. Due to the nature of your concerns and moment to which they arise, it is inarguable that you are someone who benefits from the fruits of racist structures. Why do you demand so fervently to go back to business as usual and ignore the plights and injustices that the very person you might be sitting next to is facing? I’m afraid that Haverford College existing as an idealistic utopia still has not shattered for you, since you still believe that institution is or has ever been a level playing field. The demands are not radical; they are simply demands for the institution to put systems in place that allow Black and Brown, FGLI, LGBTQIA+ students the chance to thrive and succeed as much as their white peers who don’t have to worry about life or death, State violence, or whether or not they can manage their job on top of academics on top of extracurriculars on top of the everyday reminders that Black lives don’t matter. This is why we strike; against business as usual, to have OUR voices that have been silenced for centuries – globally– and generations –on campus– to assert that Black lives matter. We are not here to convince you; the movement will continue without your support. Know that your reluctance to participate perpetuates, reproduces, and propagates the same colonial and white supremacist systems that advantage certain groups of people over others. Just because issues of BIPOC don’t affect you, doesn’t mean that there isn’t someone out there who is severely affected by these oppressive systems and institutions. By centering the voices and concerns of the most vulnerable in our communities, we liberate everyone.

Allow me to be frank: I, and many people like me who are too afraid to speak out, are shocked and hurt. This strike has put into sharp relief many of the issues that accompany divisive rhetoric and moralizing opinions on this campus. I will outline, step by step, the harm that has been done to our college by the actions of the strikers, the demands that have been made, and their individual interactions.

First, I believe that criticisms of President Raymond and Dean Bylander have been blown completely out of proportion. Reading over their email to the student body, I see why some would have found the message hurtful or counterproductive. However, I think the overwhelming intention of the message is quite clear; our school administrators are concerned about the spread of coronavirus on campus if students engage in protests in Philadelphia, as well as having fears for students’ physical safety given the violence that occured at protests the preceding nights. Indeed, Haverford students were arrested at these protests, as was reported in the Clerk. Therefore, while students might resent the administration moralizing to them, or find Raymond and Bylander’s reference to the finality of Mr. Wallace’s death problematic, I believe their overall intention of protecting our community from harm is clear. Therefore, I was alarmed to learn that the statement by the administrators was being read as “a continuation of a long tradition of anti-Blackness and the erasure of marginalized voices.” To the contrary, I think that President Raymond and Dean Bylander have consistently voiced their commitment to the principle of racial justice on our campus, and taken tangible steps to support progress on this front, all while fielding attacks on their character. I think the statement made by the administration is emblematic of their concern for our community. People, including Soha Saghir in her open letter, have criticized the email for primarily focusing upon Haverford students after a paragraph on Mr. Wallace’s tragic death. President Raymond and Dean bylander focused upon Haverford because it is their job to be concerned with the well-being of the college. Rather than showing a lack of care regarding the wider situation, I think the email demonstrated their willingness to engage with large, difficult questions and apply them to our college and its students. To be sure, while I think the wording of the email could have been more elegant, I stand by the administrators and their clear concern for the well-being of all members of the Haverford community.

For you to say that Ramond’s and Bylander’s email was blown out of proportion (the last straw of what pushed Haverford towards the strike) highlights how oblivious you, and our other white counterparts, are to the history and present racism and microaggressions that BIPOC students face on a day-to-day basis. Raymond and Bylander’s emails were a reminder and further continuation of how Haverford has failed their BIPOC/FGLI students. From the start of freshman year students of color, especially Black Woman, have constantly been questioned whether or not they have earned their place at Haverford by both professors and students. When Raymond and Bylander’s email was sent, specifically when they stated going to protests “will not bring Walter Wallace back,” BIPOC students were left with the question of: whether Black Lives truly matter to this institution including our own lives. This may not be a feeling or question, you or your peers are accustomed to, especially at a national level, but when constantly being pushed to the side, there will be an uproar of backlash from the group who faces injustice. Furthermore, the mere mention of Walter Wallace was not just “hurtful or counterproductive” it is dehumanizing. This lack of awareness goes back to the demand listed in BSFRI’s original open letter, where they state: “We Demand a Bi-Co course on Blackness and white Privilege as part of the college-wide requirements as part of the college-wide requirements implemented in the next academic year (2021-2022).” In order for Haverford students to truly understand other BIPOC students, it must start in our classes.

To your point of President and Dean protecting us, know that the administration was not “moralizing” us, but rather patronizing the many students who sought to show their support for the Black Lives Matter Movement through protesting. In order to show their concern, both the President and Dean could’ve offered to give resources such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer while their students were out protesting. When protesting, safety is our top concern for not only ourselves but for the Black non-binary, men, and woman we are fighting for. Though the President and Dean claim to protect us (rightfully so) they instead told us to be “vigil.” In other words, telling us to not take action while violence is being placed upon Black bodies, to be silent and vote when the police and government are already trying to silence us. Again, further pushing our anger and voice to the sidelines.

Also, for your only quote to be from a woman of color while you remain anonymous only contradicts your original statement of you not claiming your work/stating your name due to the fear of backlash. How were you to know that quoting and naming a POC would not cause backlash for her? It can be concluded that you had some idea of this student of color receiving backlash due to the comments under her open letter, which those comments only served to push the narrative that Walter Wallace deserved to die. This action you took shines light on your hypocrisy, and also only further emphasizes how BIPOC students take the fall for the actions of their peers at Haverford. This action you took does not uphold Haverford’s values of “trust, concern, or respect.” By naming this student you showed a lack of concern for this student’s safety, a lack of respect for their voice, and a lack of trust that it would not be addressed.

In your decision to remain anonymous (albeit still naming another student) out of fear, you reinforce the fact that “speech” can be violent. In your anonymity, you anticipate the backlash against your “free speech” that has no grounds, because BIPOC lives are not up for debate. We have not enacted nor condoned physical violence. You are aware that violence can also be ideological, and yet you produce this exact violence by speaking against the needs and demands of the most marginalized in the Haverford Community.

Furthermore, I was greatly disturbed by the lack of social distancing at the march conducted after the vigil on Wednesday night. While advertisements for the vigil stressed the importance of social distancing, the reality at the march featured hundreds of students packed together. This signifies a complete disregard of safety from some of those participating in the strike. In order to protect our community from a coronavirus outbreak, we must all remain committed to making wise choices when it comes to controlling and minimizing disease transmission. The march on Wednesday seemed to disregard this imperative, putting at-risk students, faculty, and staff in harm’s way.

At the march that commenced the strike, students also reportedly chanted “no good cops in a racist system: at members of our local law enforcement. I find this a sickening disregard for the individuality of police officers. Indeed, some officers may have malicious motives and commit heinous acts. I myself have had a negative and frightening encounter with the police. However, this does not justify the casting of all officers as bad people. Like any large group of people, I believe police officers display a wide range of traits and characteristics; some will be good, and others will be bad. Painting these individuals as inherently malevolent due to their profession is unconscionable. It feeds into the worst human instincts of judging and discriminating against people due to a single characteristic that is extrapolated upon to build a general sense of disdain.

            Given that you focused on the “no good cops” part, stripping the phrase of context and the widely publicized rhetoric around “ACAB”, We will focus on “in a racist system”. First, though I doubt it needed saying, “no good cops in a racist system” cannot be compared to racial profiling, the targeting of queer communities, or the actions and the mere exsitance of ICE. Race, sexuality, and country of origin are not choices an individual can make about themselves, their professions are very much a choice. The criminal justice system is not broken, it is working as intended. It criminalizes being Black, Brown, working class, queer, and disabled. The system of American policing as we know it was born out of slave catching militias, and our federal prison system was born out of chain gangs during the reconstruction era. The system was built and functions to continue the ideals of white supremacy. It is a racist system. Choosing to actively participate in a racist system, to grant it power and labor, is wrong. With numerous stories about “good cops” being demoted, fired, left to enter dangerous situations without backup all because they reported wrong doing by other officers tells you where the “thin blue line” sits. There were no good slave catchers, because despite any range of characteristics and traits they may have, they contributed power and labor to a racist system. “No good cops” paints the policing as wholly malicious because of how their jobs were designed to function. As to “Indeed, some officers may have malicious motives and commit heinous acts”, the phrase is “one bad apple spoils the barrel”. As we previously stated, cops are punished and left out to dry by their departments and unions if they report misuse of force or racial profiling. To compound on the issue of not being able to report “bad cops”, in many states we cannot prosecute them. There is no framework of accountability available. Voting does not change this racist system either. Under a Democrat, Philly has seen the militarized occupation of their homes, a mass arrest of political leaders, and the death of Walter Wallace Jr. There is no viable recourse to save Black and Brown lives other than abolition.

As for the list of demands drafted by the strikers, I believe that they advocate for unequal treatment, and dare I say, discrimination against certain members of the community based upon the color of their skin. The strikers demand “academic leniency for BIPOC and/or for FGLI students who are traumatized by the effects of COVID and constant police violence in their communities”. As an academic institution, Haverford can and should not provide “leniency” to some students over others. We should pride ourselves on our fair and balanced grading which should seek to judge students based solely on the quality of their work rather than any part of their identity. Furthermore, the strikers demand “POC staff especially in the Dining Center, facilities, and the Coop, should be paid overtime for the duration of the strike”. While I completely agree that the staff should be paid for the extra work they are being asked to take on, I feel it is completely antithetical to the idea of equality that POC staff should be paid extra while their white co-workers should not. All members of our staff deserve to be credited and compensated for the extra effort that is being required of them at this time. Only advocating for POC staff seems to again advocate for the differential treatment based upon their race. I think this concept is dangerous, and sets a precedent where racial discrimination is not only allowed, but encouraged as a framework towards achieving justice.

            There can not be equality in an institution where people are already placed at a disadvantage; equality in this climate can not be achieved when each group of individuals will not have the same end result as their peers, instead we work towards equity.

  We asked for equitable treatment of students, “equal treatment” is not enough, and ignores the history of many marginalized individuals. Regarding the accusation that this is solely based on skin color, FGLI stands for First Generation/Low Income. Neither of which make a judgement of the race of the individual. It is recognizing that class has played an immense role in the college experience students receive. Equitable treatment is not equal treatment. For example, equal means everyone gets the same amount of food regardless of how much food they possessed before. Equitable treatment is recognizing that half of the students are starving while the other half are throwing out their leftovers and distributes the resources accordingly. Academic leniency is not calling for the “B” grades of a student to be changed to an “A” because they are Black or low income. Instead, it is asking that when students are under academic investigation all factors of their circumstances are taken into account. BIPOC, FGLI, and Queer students often do no have the familial support, access to materials, comprehensive highschool education, financial means, or home to return to, unlike their more privileged peers. All of these factors play into academic performance, yet have no bearing on the students commitment or intelligence. Our education does not exist in a vacuum. Trauma plays a large role in an individual’s ability to function, and it is inequitable to ignore obstacles in a student’s path when evaluating their ability to stay in college. If Haverford is committed to anti-racist work, then they must begin to act equitably. We cannot ignore that higher learning institutions were built by and for white, cis, het, male students. If we ignore that history we are doomed to repeat it.

In response to the equal treatment of staff, we agree that all staff regardless of race be paid overtime. We also knew that many universities would use a strike as an excuse to furlough staff. While there are many white staff members in the Haverford community, they predominantly hold managerial positions or positions that would not be affected by the strike (i.e. facilities, Campus Safety). Staff at a vulnerable level in the DC and Coop are predominantly, if not entirely POC. We wanted to be explicit that in punishing those workers during the strike with furlough or under compensated labor, Haverford would not only be going against their commitment to anti-racism, but feeding into a system of racialized wealth inequality among staff that they were complicit in creating. Much like “Black Lives Matter” is not a rallying cry to make them matter more than other lives, “adequately compensate POC staff” is a demand for Haverford to protect those they have previously exploited.

Furthermore, the rhetoric surrounding the strike seems to inherently silence and squelch dissent, making students and faculty afraid to publicly question any of the tenets the strikers are propounding. This is why I decided to publish this article anonymously; while I am proud of my views and would have no qualms about voicing them openly, I fear the backlash and hostility that would meet me if my identity were released publicly. Campus organizations have also directly challenged the morality of those who do not follow the strike, threatening them with social repercussions. One striking campus group sent an email stating “Your participation, or the lack thereof, will not be left unnoticed and it represents your support towards the Haverford and larger Black community. You make your stance clear with your actions.” This statement completely paints over the nuance of the situation at hand. It conflates the demands of the strikers with the well-being of the black community at large, not leaving open the possibility that a student could oppose police brutality and racism but not agree with the tactics or messaging of the strikers. This moralizing rhetoric seeks to erase any argument against the strike like the one I articulate above, addressing this situation as non-complex and simply a matter of supporting the black community. These are exactly the conceptions that make students and faculty terrified to voice opposition to the strike in any way. The organizers have made clear that any opposition will be characterized as racist and the people who voice dissent will be socially ostracized This manifests itself not only on a mass level but in the scope of individual interactions. While I cannot mention specifics, I can confirm that strike organizers used foul worlds and language suggestive of physical violence towards members of a club they object to. Additionally, on an individual basis, people have shamed others, not only for voicing opposition to the strike, but for saying anything they disagree with. I have heard anecdotal examples of individuals told to “think of the space they take up” and not share their opinions simply because they are white. The concept of judging someone’s right to speak, or the relevance of their argument, simply by demographic factors harkens back to an era when racism was viewed as acceptable within society. In their quest for racial equality, the organizers have inadvertently created a social dynamic that propounds the exclusionary, judgemental, racialized rhetoric that they claim to stand against.

To be perfectly clear, backlash on views that do not take into consideration historical context, equity, or the active racism at Haverford is warranted. Actively disregarding all of the context around an issue is a bad faith argument. We held a town hall where students could anonymously ask questions of the organizers and there is one for faculty on Monday 2nd. This included questions about the demands, mitigating harm, and what issues would be considered crossing the picket line. The letter drafted by BSRFI and the current letter and list of demands drafted by the strike organizers was the nuance. They outlined every way in which BIPOC and FGLI students are subject to microaggressions and institutional violence. You cannot separate our demands from our call to strike. Striking in itself is not anti-racist. Striking because of the reasons we laid out is what makes the work anti-racist. So many times during the Trump presidency we have heard “to be silent is to side with the oppressor”. These words still apply in a smaller community like Haverford. If we do not take direct action against acts of oppression, we are saying we are comfortable with the status quo. The current status quo is detrimental to BIPOC, FGLI, and Queer students. It costs us our mental health, physical health, and too often our lives. Supporting the Black community means listening to us when we say we are dying. It means listening to us when we tell you why that is the case. We do not need you to tell us the “actual” ways we are being oppressed. Nor do we need you to tell us the proper way to protest. We have all been in committee after committee advocating for these demands to be met without the drastic action of a strike. La Casa and BSRFI’s letter are both examples of pleas left ignored, shut down, or manipulated by the administration.

When we say be cognizant of the space you take up, we mean in direct relation to the privilege you have exercised on this campus. Those not a part of a marginalized community have not had to raise their voice for better treatment. We have had to scream at the top of our lungs to even be acknowledged. When BIPOC students are saying how they are oppressed, it is not a white individual’s place to gaslight them around how they experience oppression. When we say voting is not enough, it is not appropriate to say we are childish. When we say we are over policed, it is not appropriate to bring up proximity crime statistics. We are asking that individuals be cognizant of the fact if they have not experienced this oppression, therefore cannot comprehend the damage we have endured. If they are not subject to violence on their own bodies, how can they pass judgment on how we react to violence.

WE WANT TO BE PERFECTLY CLEAR. NO ORGANIZER HAS THREATENED PHYSICAL VIOLENCE. The claim of organizers threatening violence is categorically false.

Those involved in this strike often claim that they are standing up for those who have been hurt and marginalized in the Haverford community. This begs the question: is the harm which has been inflicted on this community by the strike, which I outline above, then justified? What if the strike is creating more negativity than it is fixing? I believe the rhetoric and tactics that have been used have done just that, sowing division, conflict, and condescension rather than fixing the problems of racial inequality and a broken criminal justice system that we see in our country.

Your insistence on turning the fight against institutional racism into a zero-sum game speaks to the cold calculations that can only be performed from a bubble of privilege. The possible “harm” of feeling uncomfortable with one’s own problematic rhetoric does not prove equivalent in any regard to the pain and damages inflicted upon BIPOC people. You may be able to see the problems of racial inequality and a broken criminal justice system; we are the ones who have to experience it. We are the ones whose lives are put in jeopardy because of them. The “concern” you quote in your name has not, and yet still does not extend to the Black and Brown bodies destroyed by this nation. The strike has presented concrete steps to combat systemic racism within Haverford’s campus: you have presented complaints without solutions, only diminishing the work that you “concerned students” have never taken up.

3 thoughts on “Response to a Concerned Group of Students

  1. I honestly appreciate this response. I applaud all of the strike organizers for their hard work and dedication to the response, and want them to know that they are all legends in my heart.

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