Bryn Mawr campus roiled by Confederate flag, Mason-Dixon line in dormitory

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.”

16 comments

  1. 0
    Angela Davis says:

    No one has denied the pain and suffering of other oppressed groups. No one with a basic understanding of human life denies the suffering of jews, gays, blacks, immigrants, nor deny the suffering tyrants have brought to their communities. HOWEVER, do not silence the dialogue of suppressed racism and neglect for the well being of black people by bring up the suffering of OTHER GROUPS OF WHITE PEOPLE. Not only is it offensive, but for an oppressed group of people to silence another group of the oppressed by piggy backing their issues on the group that is in the media spotlight to gain traction for their movement.

  2. 0
    Michael says:

    “Intolerance is not welcome here” is hung from the dorm room windows of Bryn Mawr College students in a display of disapproval for Confederate flags hung in the rooms of their peers. I pose the question: who is it that is being intolerant? The students that are identifying where they are from or those that are judging others based upon a flag they hang in their room? Shame on you and your self-righteous, self-indulgent, egotistical way! The world is not always about hate and if you spend your life searching to interpret every symbol as such…well then, you must be a hoot at parties. Next time you find yourself standing alone at a social event debating why you have so few friends or why your small group of friends don’t associate with many other groups you may want to start reevaluating your own ways versus those of others.

    Put your shock face away and listen up:

    Do you REALLY think that the students are so “out of the closet racist” that they would represent this through the display of a flag? Does that really make sense? Could it be more reasonable that as in many things, different interpretations of symbols are being represented here? Perhaps as simple as, “I’m in college and trying to identify myself to other people as a proud Southern girl.” I think that may be a little more likely. Confederate flag still offend you? You feel these girls shouldn’t be so “ignorant” and “insensitive” to others? Well, you may be right about one thing. They may be ignorant of the flag’s full extent of meaning or maybe not (after all, they are Southern). However, one thing I am certain of is your ignorance tops it all. You are the jackass here because you are the ones taking their more than likely innocent intent and twisting them into being the bad guys thus creating an unnecessary intense situation. Here are some thoughts about the Confederate flag you may want to consider before jumping to judgment:

    The most common of the three Confederate Flags was designed in 1863. That is one hundred and fifty-one years ago people. Interesting tidbit for all you—not once was the Confederate flag flown over a ship transporting slaves. Do you know what flag was though? Heck, I won’t keep you in suspense. Our good ‘ole U.S. flag. When is the last time you were offended seeing a U.S. flag hanging in a dorm room? True story: there were racists in the South and sadly there still are. Another true story: there were racists in the North and sadly there still are. The Confederate flag does not stand for the history of racism any more than our own U.S. flag. Just like the U.S. flag, the Confederate flag doesn’t make one a racist for its display.

    The swastika is right up there with misinterpretations of original meanings. That symbol that so many people recognize as being pure evil once meant quite the contrary—and frankly still can. Its true meaning is related to words like good, luck, and peace. Everyone knows its jaded symbolic nature derived from Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. This is the very similar in the way KKK and other disgusting organizations have tied a connection with the Confederate flag. In the shop of my tattoo artist, he has his walls lined with the swastika symbol. By embracing the true meaning of the symbol, he chose to debunk other interpretations. Perception is in the eye of the beholder and if you choose to see and interpret everything in the negative that is on you. I personally believe the swastika is an exaggerated example of a good symbol being prescribed a wrong and negative perception. The Confederate flag doesn’t carry as much negative weight however it still exists. I ask people to use their common sense. In the case of my tattoo artist who I know is a genuinely good, caring, and kind man, I know his representation of the swastika is pure and good. In the case of the girls at BMC: Do you really think their connection to this flag is the negative connotation that the flag is sometimes associated with? I would think not. Bryn Mawr College is one of the most liberal and reputable women’s college in the country. I feel my assumption of this based upon this history of the school and its students alone would be accurate.

    Keep your interpretation of intolerance in the right lanes. You want to see intolerance? Watch ISIS execute hundreds of men in mass executions. You want to hear of intolerance? Read stories of the Holocaust. You want to preach intolerance? You better damn well be sure what you are preaching because what you are doing to those you are speaking against is a place dedicated for truly bad people.

    The ladies of Bryn Mawr College disputing these girls’ rights to hang the Confederate flag are walking a very fine line. They are preaching intolerance yet it is those who sign the petition who are demonstrating intolerance. Is it worth it? Will they sleep better at night knowing they are wedging segregation in what I can imagine is a very “small world” on that campus? Yes, this is an exemplary example of intolerance—only those crying they are victims are the ones guilty of the act.

    “I have seen great intolerance in support of tolerance.” –Samuel Taylor Coleridge

  3. 0
    Cindy says:

    It is troubling to see college students at a rally chanting “We won’t be silenced,” while calling for the silencing of others whose beliefs are not in accord with their own. It is even more troubling to hear that students would be threatened based on their “inappropriate”.

    The issue here is not one of exactly what a confederate flag means. It is an issue of whether or not a society that prizes free speech should encourage students to pursue prejudices based on their interpretations (even shared interpretations) of right and wrong. If so, then by all means students should hold protests, threaten those who have different opinions and even demand punishment for those whose views don’t match their own. They need to recognize, though, that this has nothing to do with free speech and everything to do with totalitarianism.

  4. 0
    John says:

    @ Gordon: Citing the “venerable history” behind a symbol that has since become universally synonomous with the enslavement of other human beings is like citing the “religious history” of the swastika and pretending that no one should be offended by what that symbol has come to mean today. No amount of equivocation or charges of being “historically challenged” will change that perception, and your “venerable” indigantion over this is noted but not accepted by the majority of people who DO understand the hidden, dog-whistle code behind the display of that flay.

  5. 0
    ken says:

    the confederate flag is just a symbol for traitors and losers and by the southern people wanting to display the confederate flag shows they are not smart enough to be embarrassed by the fact that they were and are losers.

  6. 0
    Frank says:

    If the girls who were displaying the Confederate Flag said that it was not intended to be offensive or racist, then that should be the end of it. The real problem here are the people who take offence where none was intended. They’re not mind readers to know what those girl’s opinion of Black people is.

    The Confederate Flag can mean different things to different people. There is no denying that the preservation of slavery was the Confederacy’s raison d’être. However, the Confederate Flag also represents a particular geographic area.

    The Confederate Flag was not widely seen as offensive until recently. 30 years ago it wasn’t uncommon to see the Confederate Flag in popular culture. Billy Idol sported a guitar with the Confederate Flag on it during his 1984 Rebel Yell tour and nobody said that they were offended by it. In 1985 Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers released a music video for the song “Rebels” that prominently featured the Confederate Flag and it didn’t cause a controversy. Bret Michaels from the Glam-Rock band Poison went all through the 1980s with a Confederate Flag guitar and nobody accused him of being a racist. From 1979 until 1985 CBS television broadcast the “Dukes of Hazzard” where the protagonists were a couple of “good ‘ol boys” from the South who drove around in a 1968 Dodge Charger with a Confederate Flag painted on the roof, and nobody was offended by the television show.

    The civil war ended and we abolished slavery almost 150 years ago. There is nobody alive today who can remember it. I have to say, I think that people who are suddenly offended by the Confederate Flag when they weren’t offended by it 30 years ago are a little bit slow on the draw.

    Moreover, there is a double standard. I’ve seen Soviet flags displayed by students on college campuses. I’ve seen hipsters walking around in t-shirts modelled on the Soviet Flag. I’ve seen college students walking around with Che Guevara t-shirts and putting Che Guevara flags in their windows.

    Communists have murdered millions of people. Joseph Stalin did things that were infinitely worse than anything Jefferson Davis did. Che Guevara was a war criminal — he executed thousands of people with no due process whatsoever. As bad as Black slaves had it in the American South, they didn’t have it anywhere near as bad as Russian dissidents in a Siberian gulag during the purges did.

    So it floors me that people are upset by the Confederate Flag, but nobody bats an eyelash or take offence when communist symbols are displayed, especially when the crimes committed by the communists were more severe and much more recent than anything done by the Confederacy.

    This isn’t to say that I want to ban people from using communist symbols. I believe in free speech — even if I’m personally offended by it.

  7. 0
    XYZ123 says:

    What is not said in this article are the other issues on the campus that lead to this demonstration. There are other racist events that have happened over the years. The hanging of the confederate flag was simply done at the breaking point for many people. While the issue of the flag, I believe was blown out of proportion, the discussion about race and racism was something that needed to be done years ago. While the confederate flag is not the only flag to bring up negative connotations, it is the one that affected and offended many people. Since it is known as such a controversial symbol, it was hoped that students will think of how it could effect the community, their friends, faculty, and staff.
    Growing up with racism is something that you cannot simply guess what it is like. For the people who grow up in that spotlight light, its something that says that people will automatically make assumptions based on their blood or skin. If you believe racism is not still an issue, you are sorely mistaken. Whether you notice or not it is something that permeates through every aspect of life. Some of these students who have grown up like this feel unsafe and hurt, and like they have no where to turn to. They feel like everywhere they turn their voices are being silenced.
    They used this event to call attention to the larger issue of racism on college campuses. This article did not add everything this demonstration stood for. This demonstration was not only about the flag, it was about how to create a community that works together to see that everyone on campus feels safe. Other slogans were, Unsafe for any Unsafe for all and Because I am a Person, I Care. Typically there are talks about race but never action. This demonstration was something that allowed the students to get the attention of the administration and say there needs to be change.
    In addition not every student attending the demonstration believed in every aspect of it. While some carried the Hate not History sign, others did not and refused to chant that line. Those attending believed that change was something that needed to happen. “That racism has got to go.”

    On another note, with more personal feelings having to do with this event.
    In every demonstration or protest around the world there are those who are more radical in their beliefs. There have been people outraged who have called for the offending students to be moved out of the dorms, resign from teams, and be expelled from the school. I think this is ridiculous. The students did not break any law or rule of the college. What they did was a mistake which they now feel truly terrible about. We are all human and make mistakes. It can’t be the only time someone has made a mistake and has offended people. They have tried to rectify the situation. They feel terrible because they hurt the feelings many of their friends and faculty who are effected by racism on a daily basis. They honestly believed that the flag they hung up, which they did hang in a private hallway closed off by a door, could be a sign for southern pride. The flag made others feel uncomfortable so it was asked they take it down. I believe that these students are now being targeted in a way that makes them feel unsafe because their actions were at the breaking point of a larger issue on campus and upset many people. Some of the people who have been hurt are very vocal about it and continue to move the demonstration to mean punishment for the wrongdoings/mistakes of the students involved instead of the larger issue. The students involved have sincerely tried to make up for their actions and have been hurt as well. Unfortunately not everyone believes they are sincere adding more fuel to the flames. I believe the students involved have been through enough already. I think that if we are going to look at the problems of racism and use the slogan Unsafe for Any Unsafe for All, we must think of everyone who is being targeted. The people who are affected by racism and the people who ignited this event. I believe some of the people campus want to forgive the students and move on with life while still bringing the larger issue of racism on campuses to the administration. I am still learning and still trying to make full sense of the events on campus. I am trying to be somewhere in-between the two opposing sides. I am trying to look at the situation from both view points and not make harsh judgments about the people involved. I believe there should be change but at the same time there should be forgiveness.

  8. 0
    GP says:

    So I’ve tried to catch up on my history per all of your comments. Please help me. I’m having trouble confirming your take on history. I’ve already learned much by reading “little” about the history of the various flags of the confederate states of america because of your comments. So…

    I don’t see how the Confederate Battle Flag has a 1200 year history, as in going back to the 9th century, unless you take license on the background of those who brought it to the foreground of all the various versions around the time of the Confederacy. If anything, of all the confederate flags around at the time, the respect given by the Confederacy to the influence of Jewish concerns and the use of the cross is fascinating. But the predominant concern, and underlying popularity, of the CBF seemed to rest more with not wanting to give credence to the CBF being a knockoff of the Stars and Stripes.

    As someone whom you would define as a minority, it is hard for me to rationalize your comments about – “affinity groups”, “Mujeres for latin peoples,”, the “X group for people born , on Tuesday, Y group for people who hold that mountain goats should be included in the feline family” (that was really a good one by the way), as “created for the sole purpose of exclusion and segregation”. Bryn Mawr as a microcosm of the US, is about 75% white. When you are in a minority group, possibly even the mountain goats you mention, it is hard sometimes to not feel alone unless you can be around others of your race (or species as you alluded to). I have grown up steeped in the culture of the United States, I am an American. And as such, am fairly well versed in what I would call a white culture. A defined white history excluding people of color. The existence of these groups are inclusionary, not exclusionary, as without the support it is hard to feel part of our country. It’s actually similar to how you are feeling now as the roles must feel reversed. It must feel strange to see who you are attacked directly, or indirectly as you did comparing the a group of human beings with animals. Whether it is written into our constitution, or coming from an aside in a comment, it must be hard.

    I will try hard to read more of the history of the confederate states. But maybe you could also keep a more open mind toward the other groups you disparage. I know I must seem “touchy”. I will try to be more open minded, listen to what you have to say, play a bit of role reversal and walk in your shoes. Give me a shot at doing the same.

  9. 0
    Ole Miss says:

    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. Why are only certain groups allowed? There is a group for Latin Amerians, Blacks, but not Southern?

    It’s shocking that students at Bryn Mawr are so ignorant of history. If ANY of the students read history, there would be no issue with the Confederate Battle Flag.

    1. 0
      Angela Davis says:

      I wonder why…possibly because not all students of the South care to be grouped into the exclusive, racist, bloody history behind the South…or maybe it is because white people don’t need affinity groups (I am assuming when you say Southern people you are excluding the black people who raised your ancestors children, made you money in plantations, and birthed branches of your family). One can’t deny the privilege and power white people hold in the United States, but you are ignorant to preach about exclusion when you blatantly excluded the southern black population.
      #dismissed

  10. 0
    Zedel Bittamurr says:

    I feel so sad for the campus of Bryn Mawr….
    I see numerous groups created for the sole purpose of exclusion and segregation – Mujeres for latin peoples, Sisterhood for black girls, X group for people born only on Tuesday, Y group for people who hold that mountain goats should be included in the feline family, and Z group – for those who are of a non-sex gender born in Argentina from Eskimo parentage.
    Yet, it was these very groups who have hogged all the media glam of late, openly showing Pennsylvania at large and the greater part of America just how full of hate and bigotry and racism they actually espouse.
    No attempt at any understanding of the two brave ladies at the center of this Tempest in a Teapot, no dialogue, no seeking of even a simple handshake of friendship – just a full blown mental breakdown and a college community turned madhouse full of bias and discrimination.
    Starting from President Kim Cassidy on down to the ‘leaders’ of those exclusionary groups mentioned above – they ALL need to openly apologize to the greater College Community and the State of Pennsylvania, as well as the 2 young ladies, whose lives have been threatened with violence and hate.
    Then, President Cassidy needs to step down.
    Shame on everyone except those two brave ladies.
    God Bless them

    1. 0
      Sara G. says:

      I am a strong proponent of respect and dialogue; and I believe even when I attempt to “call out” someone on something I have an issue with, I will try to as encouraging and nice as possible, so that we can both hopefully learn from each other.

      But I just don’t have all the time in the world to sit here and nicely explain to you the many layers of ignorance espoused in your post. Educate yourself on the politics of race and then try to make this argument. After that, if you can still justify the opinion you’ve shared here, you are either A) not actually reading or understanding books/articles on critical race theory, or B) you are incurably ignorant and I feel sorry for you. While I’m on the subject of “feeling sorry”- your pity for Bryn Mawr College is 100 percent NOT welcome, or necessary. Your depiction of the campus as a “madhouse” reveals just how little you know about how this issue was treated internally and the numerous efforts that made possible the campus-wide engagement in dialogue concerning the flag and racism more broadly. Both of your “brave” ladies were specifically invited into dialogue that they refused to attend; not only refusing to engage or hear what other students had to say, but refusing to give themselves a better chance to be heard by the campus.

      And if you don’t feel like it’s your business to become educated about the complexities of race and issues of racism, or find it necessary to actually have a clear understanding of a specific issue in the context of specific place before attempting to critique, then it’s not possible for you to hold a valid opinion on this subject. Sure, free speech will protect your the right to post words on the internet. But “free speech” won’t make those words any less ignorant or you look any less stupid. And thanks to freedom of speech, there isn’t anything to stop me from telling you so.

  11. 0
    Gordon says:

    This article appears to have been written by a Yankee. For those of you who are historically challenged: The Confederate Battle Flag is not and has never been referred to as the “Stars and Bars”. That title is reserved for the First National Flag of the Confederacy. The Confederate Battle Flag, which has a 1,200 year history and predates the settling of this country by over a millennium, was introduced in the fall of 1861 to distinguish Confederate troops on the battle field because the First National Flag looked too much like the flag of the Northern States. The Confederate Battle Flag or the Christian Cross of St. Andrew was and still is the flag of the common soldier. As such, the Confederate Battle Flag never was the National flag of the Confederacy, as your article alleges.

    All of the 150 or so Confederate flags are designated as American Flags and are protected by Federal law. While it is good that Bryn-Mawr College seeks the protection of all, the Confederate Battle Flag does not threaten anyone. The National Association of Always Complaining People has been using the flag to bilk people’s grandmothers out of the Social Security checks. Their comments insult the legacy of every Confederate-American; white, black, red, and brown, who rose up against a tyrannical and dictatorial government that confiscated the wealth of one part of the country (South) to the benefit of another.

    Since it is the colleges intention to protect the rights all students. I can safely assume that includes the rights of minorities of Confederate-American descent to express themselves through their culture and through displays of that culture, such as the Confederate Battle Flags. Doing otherwise is not only racist, but infringes on the free speech of all and only reinforces the perception that colleges and universities are breeding grounds for Marxist thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *