Bryn Mawr Student Activists Demanded for Change as Tri-College Strike Manifested

by Black Students from Bryn Mawr College
Featured image by Haverford Students

Haverford College Strike

“Joining a protest off campus not only would not bring Walter Wallace back: it could play into the hands of those who might seek to sow division and conflict especially in vulnerable communities.” These are some of the words written in an appalling email by Haverford College’s President, Wendy Raymond, and Undergraduate Dean, Joyce Bylander, on October 28, 2020. The email addressed the murder of Walter Wallace Jr., who, while undergoing a mental health crisis, was murdered by the police in his Philadelphia neighborhood- just five miles away from Haverford College- on October 26. In this email, President Raymond and Dean Bylander repressed students’ rights to rightfully protest the hundreds of years of anti-Black violence that is not only present in the institution of Haverford College, but that has cost the lives of millions of Black people for hundreds of years in the United States and around the world.

In response to this egregious email, students at Haverford went about another way of protesting and began a 14 day student led strike on October 29, 2020. Haverford College’s Strike, led by members of Women of Color House, Black Student Refusing Further Inaction, Black Student League, and supporting student allies built off of the many years of demands that marginalized students have been asking the institution for years. Some of these demands included, a reparations fund, the removal of President Raymond as “Chief of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the acknowledgement of Black women’s labor on campus, an increase in aid and support for queer and trans students of Color, and the abolition of the institution’s partnership with the Philadelphia Police Department. Students divested from the institution to demonstrate that the institution- which continues to uphold oppressive systems, such as, white supremacy, classism, and elitism- cannot run without the exploited and unpaid labor of its Black, Indigenous, and students of Color. 

Featured image by Haverford Students
BMC Strike Poster made by Haverford Students

Bryn Mawr College Strike

Students at Bryn Mawr College, one of Haverford College’s partner institutions in the Bi-College Consortium, followed suit and striked in solidarity with students at Haverford. Inspired by our peers at Haverford College, Black, Indigenous, and other students of Color at Bryn Mawr, also recognized that Bryn Mawr College continues to uphold oppressive systems that disportionately marginalizes students of Color. Therefore, students at Bryn Mawr began our strike on November 3, 2020. The strike at Bryn Mawr College, led by members of the Core Bryn Mawr Strike Collective, also built off of demands that marginalized students have been asking for many years. Some of these demands included the implementation of institutional requirements on anti-racist learning, the removal of all monuments and names dedicated to white supremacists, the abolition of investment in forms of police systems on campus, and the inclusion of undocumented and DACAmented students in work payment systems. Similarly to students at Haverford, students at Bryn Mawr ceased to end the strike until the demands were met.

The strike at Bryn Mawr, lasted for 16 days, and in these 16 days, students divested from the institution by striking from classes, on campus jobs, extracurricular activities, limiting their use in the dining hall, and reallocating funds to mutual aid funds, such as the newly created student led fund, Bi-Co Mutual Aid, and other mutual fund and bail out organizations. Instead, students engaged in other opportunities of learning, collaborative planning, and open discussion at the institution. 

Teach-Ins

Students were highly encouraged to engage in anti-racist learning that is widely underlooked in higher education curriculums. Therefore, in place of classes, students were encouraged to attend teach-ins, led by faculty members and students, which centered topics of anti-racist discussions and radical imaginations of liberation. Some of these teach-ins sessions included, The History of Exclusionary Admissions Policies at Bryn Mawr College, The Haitian Revolution as a Model of Protest, Imagining Radical Access: Accessibility Beyond Accommodation, Abolition 101, and Geographies of Racial Capitalism in Philadelphia. Teach-ins had an attendance between 60 and over 150 students, faculty, and staff each session. 

Collaborative Planning

In terms of collaborative planning, student organizers conducted sit-ins to discuss the institutional racism of the college and to provide Black students the opportunity to be open about their experiences navigating the College. Thus, the sit-ins served as a way to center Black students’ voices that have often been erased and “invisibilized” throughout the history of the institution. The sit-ins also served as a space for the rest of the Bryn Mawr student body to listen to students who have had drastically different experiences at the institution than they have, and to allow them to gain another perspective of the College that they may not have been aware of. 

Town Hall

On November 6, 2020 Bryn Mawr College administration, President Kimberly Cassidy, Undergraduate Dean, Jennifer Walters, and Provost, Timothy Harte, responded to the first list of demands that student organizers sent to them three days prior. In this response, the administration provided students a vague and general action plan to meet the demands and invited students, faculty, and staff to a town hall for an open discussion. However, student organizers were given just over 2 hours- which was an inadequate amount of time- to look over President Cassidy’s response to the demands and attend the town hall. Therefore, student organizers, and supporting students, opted not to attend the town hall, and student organizers worked with administration to allow more time to review administration’s responses to the initial list of demands and to schedule a public town hall that aimed to center students’ experiences at the College. 

A town hall was rescheduled for the following week, and had an attendance of over 700 people from Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges campuses. The goal of this town hall was to present the revised demands to students, faculty, and staff and to provide a space of transparency and open discussion on whether or not the administration would see that the demands- which was not an exhaustive list- could be implemented at the institution. President Cassidy, Dean Walters, Provost Harte, and the rest of Bryn Mawr administration were given the weekend to review the demands and draft a framework on how the College would implement these demands in the coming years. On Monday, November 16, 2020 Bryn Mawr’s administration emailed the student body a draft of the framework of how the College will continue to implement the much needed changes at the institution. Student organizers were provided a few days to review the framework, and meet with administration to ensure that the College upholds its commitment on serving “all”​ “students to the highest standard of excellence to prepare them for lives of purpose”. 

Thanks to students’ relentless efforts, a majority of the demands were met and, after 16 days, Bryn Mawr College Strike concluded on November 19, 2020. Here is a snapshot of what was accomplished during the Bryn Mawr Strike:

Swarthmore College’s Strike

Students and Swarthmore College- a partner institution in the Tri-College Consortium along with Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges- began their strike, led by members of the Black Affinity Coalition, following an open letter to President Valerie Smith and the rest of the current administration. Similarly to the list of demands put forth to respective administrations by students at Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges, members of the Black Affinity Coalition, presented a list of demands to the current administration requesting institutional changes to account for the oppressive systems that continue to marginalize, queer, gender-oppressed, DACAmented, and undocumented, Black, Indigenous, and other students of Color at the institution. Swarthmore College’s strike began on Monday, November 16, 2020 in response to administration’s continued negligence to meet BIPOC’s students demands, such as, the active effort to recruit more Indigenous people to access their right to education at Swarthmore College, an increase in accessible services and policies for students with disabilities, the inclusion of undocumented and DACAmented students in on campus job employment, and the incorporation of Black, Indigenous, Disabled, and Queer writers, scientists, and activists in course syllabi.

Members of the Black Affinity Coalition invited President Smith and the rest of the administration to a public town hall to discuss the demands. However, President Smith declined BAC’s request and stated in an email that, “At this point, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that I see further engagement with an anonymous group and a set of demands that do not reflect the serious and ongoing efforts of those in our community as the most effective way of addressing issues critical to the entire College community.” To be clear, Swarthmore College has a history of unjust punishment towards student activists, such as Black student activists, who have demanded change at the institution. As a result of this history, Swarthmore organizers chose to remain anonymous. The strike was inevitably suspended on November 25, 2020 due to lack of support from administration, faculty members, and a large percentage of students.

Path to Moving Forward

Working to change an institution is a radical and revolutionary attempt; the act requires not only immediate responses to injustices but also requires long term-plans for accountability. As a result, we find it important not only to acknowledge our successes but to also transform the very way we celebrate and talk about work. With that being said, we, the Black Student Libertatory Coalition established by members of the Bryn Mawr College Core Strike Collective, are looking forward to reinvigorating the Black and brown community between students, faculty, and staff. It is here within these safe spaces that current students turn to live, thrive, and simply be — authentically. 

Accountability and authenticity put work in motion but in coalition spaces, such as BSLC, these spaces create and sustain an ecosystem of abolitionists ideals. When the core organizers of the 2020 Bryn Mawr Strike first declared the start of the strike no one warned us of the length the College and its administrators would take to alter and delegitimize our claims. In other words, we learned that administrators want students to do the work of creating policy, decoding history, and producing research so that the institution can turn around and claim our work, dump labor on underpaid and underappreciated BIPOC students, faculty, and staff, agree to implementing only the bare minimum of such demands, and then ultimately demonstrate the institution’s complete subservience to the system’s anti-abolitionist ideals. Despite the progressive realization of the College’s dangerous and inherently anti-Black environments, BIPOC students, faculty, and staff continue to do the work of abolitionists, which is the work of coalition building. 

Haverford College’s Statement and Demands: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1u3kg_XDs5ZHH4ma_hL0rlEn5SrQdfbHT9tRh8UE1zcY/edit

Swarthmore College Statement and Demands: https://swarthmorevoices.com/content-1/2020/11/11/black-affinity-coalition-statement-and-demands

Bryn Mawr College’s Revised Demands: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1YyZxr8sczLC8w7dmqFQKOhLnSlxVssRuwbnRwxHsO3Q/edit

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