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 free speech of 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 that 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 be again 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 of the article. That’s the essence of honest discussion and debate. You do not 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, as 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 moment 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, for an 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 about a positive change on campus.
A Concerned Group of Haverford Students
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.
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 occurred 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.
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 this 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.
As for the list of demands drafted by the strikers, I believe 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 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 based upon their race. We should pride ourselves in our fair and balanced grading, which should seek to judge students solely based on the quality of their work rather than any part of their identity. Furthermore, the strikers demand that “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 in general 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 of people 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.
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 words 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, judgmental, racialized rhetoric that they claim to stand against.
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.
To finish, to those of you who have felt hesitancy to endorse every aspect of this strike, whether you agree with me on every point I make or not, I hear you, and you are not alone. The repressive environment that the strikers have tried to impose upon our campus only works if we let it. You all have the power to speak up. It is not easy, but it is important. If you want to go to class, do not be afraid to tell your professors. Do not refrain from going to your clubs because you are afraid of being judged. The tactics of the strikers to end dissent and squelch opposition through moralistic pronouncements depends upon the silence of those of us being told to not speak. Do not let their rhetoric weigh you down and make you feel silenced anymore. If you need someone to talk to about everything going on, feel free to reach out to me by email at email@example.com. We will all get through this difficult time together.