Students, faculty, and college employees at Haverford College in Pennsylvania who went on strike over an insensitive email from the school’s president and interim dean, have voluntarily ended protests after two weeks, claiming their demands have been met.
In the email, college President Wendy Raymond and Dean Joyce Bylander discouraged students from joining protests against the shooting of Walter Wallace, a black man from West Philadelphia killed by police.
Raymond and Bylander asked students to consider “silent protests” and to vent their anger at the ballot box. The university officials also stated that protesting “will not bring back Walter Wallace.”
The Black, Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) community did not take the email lightly. Student Raveen Green remarked to local news outlet WHYY that it was “very insensitive” and thought the statement sought to suppress their anger, that students were being told not to oppose the system.
The protests were promptly organized by Haverford student groups including Women of Color House, Black Students Refusing Further Inaction, and the Black Student League. These students published a list of demands.
Victory of Vigilance
Haverford College officials agreed to some of the protesters’ demands, such as canceling classes and closing college buildings on Election Day. Officials also pledged $75,000 toward renovations of the Black Cultural Center along with dozens of other concessions that involve building accessibility and those affecting indigenous and LGBTQ students.
Protestors signaled their willingness to end the strike with a letter addressed to the community after “very real wins” the protest action were achieved. However, they cautioned, this is “only the beginning of the work and that they must continue to be vigilant.”
Organizers also issued a stern warning to President Raymond and “every single so-called leader of this institution” that BIPOC students will always be vigilant and ready to fight for change when leaders fail them. They ended with the question: “Does a tsunami only have one wave?”
President Raymond accepted the challenge. She noted that working for racial justice in a “predominantly and historically white setting” is a huge challenge to the status quo. However, the “anti-racism agenda” has been met with “many forms of support.” Eventually, the system must “make space for all” who engage in “important work.”
After any celebration, students will face the pressure of making up lost school days. While a majority of professors pledged not to penalize students who chose to attend the protest, they would still have two weeks of work that must be made up during the remaining days of the semester.
Some students were able to return to class even if the protest had not ended. An anonymous senior confided to student newspaper Clerk that they “literally cannot afford to take another semester of college” if they miss more classes.