Over the course of the past ten days, an incident involving two Bryn Mawr college students has developed into a multi-day campuswide movement against racial discrimination. The series of events began when the two Bryn Mawr students in question flew the Confederate “stars and bars” flag in Radnor Hall, a dormitory at the college sometime before September 15. In addition to flying the flag in a public space on the hall, the two students drew a line on the floor of the hallway that was intended to represent the Mason-Dixon line.
The flag, which served as a national symbol of the slaveholding South during the civil war, maintains a strong anti-Black connotation for many. The Mason-Dixon line is considered to demarcate the cultural boundary between the American north and south.
According to Michelle Lee ’15, a student at Bryn Mawr and a resident of Radnor Hall, two girls posted a confederate flag in a shared dormitory space during the middle of the week of September 7th. When other students in the dormitory asked the girls to remove the flag, they refused, arguing the flag was a token of their Southern pride and was not offensive or racist. After the dorm president asked the girls for the flag to be taken down, they created with tape a line on their floor meant to represent the Mason-Dixon line. Following a second request from the hall’s dorm team for the flag to be removed, the girls placed it inside their room, where it was clearly visible from outside their window. Following the event, there was a rapid response from the student body.
An email from Bryn Mawr’s administration concerning the incident went out to all students on that Monday, September 15. On the same day, an open forum sponsored by the college was held for all students to discuss the event, and the Bryn Mawr Student Government Association also released a plenary resolution via email discussing race in the college’s honor code and recognizing that racism was still present on Bryn Mawr’s campus. The Tricollegiate NAACP was also notified, and they issued a response condemning the incident. That night, student-run movements began to organize.
By Wednesday, September 17, another email was sent out to all students staying that the situation had not been resolved, and student-run movements in response to the event continued to gain traction. Groups on campus such as Mujeres, a group for members of the Latin American diaspora at Bryn Mawr, the Sisterhood, a support network for African-American Bryn Mawr students, and other affinity groups held official meetings to discuss the incident and sent out calls to action across campus. On Thursday, September 18, counselors and other resources on campus opened up office hours to all students who wished to discuss the events. At one point during the day, Bryn Mawr President Kim Cassidy spoke personally with students. That evening, student groups on campus were making final preparations for protests to be held on Friday morning. Posters were made with the hashtags #ifIwere and #becauseIam, which began to trend on Facebook and Twitter by Thursday night.
At 3:30 p.m. at the Pembroke Arches on Bryn Mawr’s campus, there were hundreds of Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore students dressed in black, brandishing posters and standing together. An event titled “It’s Still Not Over” was created on Monday the 22, the purpose of which was to create more posters to be hung on the windowsills of campus dormitories. In response to the events that transpired on their campus, President Kim Cassidy’s office released the following statement:
“Recently, some students displayed the Confederate flag in the hallway of their dorm, and subsequently within their room in a place visible from outside the building… While this event has wounded our community, it has made us stronger.
Citizenship is at the heart of a liberal arts education and I’m proud that our students have come together in solidarity to take on the larger systemic issues of racism and intolerance that still remain not just on this campus, but throughout our society.
I am confident that the compassion and wisdom of our students, faculty and staff will guide us a we move forward.”
On Tuesday, September 23, the residents of Radnor hall met with a mediator to discuss the events. The two girls who had hung the confederate flag were there, said Lee, although they had been absent from other meetings regarding the issue.
“The whole time they essentially did not apologize for it… they just feigned ignorance,” she said. “They were like, wait, what does the Mason-Dixon line mean? We didn’t get that this would mean such a horrible thing to you people. Their apology was just not a real apology.”
Ten days after the events transpired, many Bryn Mawr students have expressed a strong amount of discontent over the whole issue, as well as with how administration has responded to the incident.
“There is no way anyone can claim we live in a post-racial society, especially when campuses like Bryn Mawr, that pride themselves on being progressive, do not know how to properly handle the situation,” said Rina Patel, a first year at Bryn Mawr. “It’s extremely disheartening for the people of color at Bryn Mawr that it took this long to get the administration to take it seriously. This demonstration is definitely not the end of this. We hope to continue the conversation and ensure that Bryn Mawr is a safe place for all.”
Jaycherie Little, another first year at Bryn Mawr, concurred with Patel.
“Nothing is going to change if people don’t recognize the problem first,” she noted. “I was shocked that anyone [at Bryn Mawr] would do that.”