This strike, led by students of color, was connected to wider protests against police brutality and bias that should not be dismissed. But it was mainly about Haverford College’s deficiencies, grievous enough to require shutdown of campus.
Students were not protesting the fact that low-income families pay less than $10,000 to attend a college that, according to the most recent data available, spends approximately $60,000 per full-time student. Nor were they protesting the debt relief Haverford offers the small percentage of its students who graduate with debt. They did want Haverford to begin “actually supporting its lower-income” students.
They were not protesting the fact that black and white students at Haverford have the same, high, six-year graduation rate. They did want Haverford to quit with the dialogue and do something real about “colonial and white supremacist systems.”
They were not protesting the fact that Haverford has a “social justice transit fund” to provide car fare for students pursuing “social justice activism and learning” and a “Summer Social Justice Institute” to orient incoming students “interested in exploring issues of identity, power, privilege and social justice.” They were concerned that students get paid for the campus jobs they weren’t doing during the strike.
One can read about what the students demanded and how Haverford’s administration responded here. Six demands concerned Haverford College’s support for student activism.
Another demand, under the heading of “Accountability for Problematic Professors,” was to be discussed at an emergency meeting of the faculty. I’ve seen no report of the meeting, but I doubt the faculty accepted the demand that students be empowered to elect a “body”—50 percent students, 25 percent administrators, and 25 percent faculty—to receive reports of professorial misbehavior and “provide resources for how [accused faculty] might change their thinking/behavior moving forward.” They were probably not reassured by the concession that only repeat offenders would be reported to the “provost, (new) diversity officer, and department head.” But I also doubt the faculty will try to explain to their students why their demand threatens academic freedom.
A majority of Haverford Students supported the strike, but many did not. Perhaps dissenters anticipated what has happened now that the strike was over, namely that all the missed instructional time in canceled classes has to be made up. Such dissenters, the strike organizers acknowledge in a response to concerned parents, were bullied, or at least targets of the “frustration and anger” of the strikers. In a note on the end of the strike, they lament seeing the “true colors of many members of the Haverford community,’” who, by disagreeing with them, effectively supported the “system of white supremacist racial capitalism that Haverford” benefits from.
Nonetheless, the strikers, who won numerous concessions are celebrating their achievement. By standing up to Haverford’s President Wendy Raymond and “administrative violence,” they “brought forward the beginnings of a powerful roadmap for action toward racial justice.”
Wait, sorry. That’s not the strikers but President Wendy Raymond in a campus-wide email.
The strikers also celebrated their victory over the administration with a statement announcing that they are collecting “records related to the strike to mark this important period” in acknowledgment of the contributors to the “impactful action.”
Recall those students who did not sign up for the protests, who were disserved by the cancellation of their classes, and who were subjected to bullying or something nearly indistinguishable from it. They had a taste of what was coming when one faculty member publicly said he found it hard to “take [their concerns] seriously.” Dissenting students, he suggested, had no regard for how students of color have been silenced. In any case, when it comes to a strike, “you’re either for it or against it.”
The college, then, is for it.
I don’t want to make too much of the wounded feelings of students subjected to harsh criticism. Nor do I want to be too hard on the strikers. If they are like student activists I have met in the course of my career, many care about justice, have an eye for administrative hypocrisy, and are more thoughtful privately than their formulaic public pronouncements suggest. But I do want to be hard on Haverford’s administration.
They did not give in to every demand. For example, students were told that faculty alone would determine how and whether strikers could make up missed work and that those who participate in civil disobedience should accept the consequences. But they are now hailing the strikers as heroes, and thereby reproaching the students who disagreed with them. In so doing, Haverford affirms that a college faced with a dispute about justice should pick a side and pledge allegiance to it. Teaching is for the unenlightened.