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We need Justice at Bryn Mawr: Let Kristin Walk!

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As Bryn Mawr College School of Social Work and Social Research Students, we would like to express our deepest disappointment with how the college is handling Kristin Baglieri's request to walk at Commencement with her class year. We demand Kristin be able to walk.

Kristin Baglieri, an MSS candidate of Bryn Mawr College’s School of Social Work and Social Research (GSSWSR), registered for the Fall 2017 semester course of “Multiculturalism and Diversity: Advanced Perspectives” as part of the required courses for students to receive their MSS at GSSWSR. The first day of class was unsafe for Kristin as a mixed-race person of color. Many others have also voiced concerns over the course, including those who took the course in the two sessions during the summer. The course centers whiteness and positions of privilege. The professors didn't engage as active facilitators to push against the rhetoric of reverse racism, transphobia, homophobia, and ageism. Not only did the professors not respond in a way consistent with the objective of the course to commit to social justice as it applies to all human beings, including marginalized and oppressed populations, but they also perpetuated marginalization. In the class sessions, professors were allowed to create safe space guidelines that don’t adhere to a sense of justice and they didn’t adhere to the safe space policy for students who didn’t agree that oppression is a material reality. The course leaves students of color and marginalized students emotionally exhausted and burdened. The labor that these students have to do is perpetuating the oppression that the course aims to ease. While trying to learn about how to become social workers, students in marginalized positions must defend their identities and educate privileged people on what it’s like to be marginalized. This is not what students should be focusing on in a class to address their own power and positionality. The onus is entirely on marginalized students to reach across to those who are white and hold power and privilege.

Kristin dropped the course. While dropping this course, Kristin learned that she wouldn’t be able to walk at Commencement. She reached out to the Dean of the GSSWSR and the Dean of Graduate Colleges, who both said there was no precedent for this. While there wasn’t, there has been multiple students in the class who wanted to walk with their classmates in prior years, given that they take the course necessary to finalize their degree at the college. Kristin agreed to take the revised course in Summer 2018. The Dean suggested to Kristin to consult the Graduate Council and to reach out to a Graduate Council Representative regarding the matter.

On Tuesday March 6th, Dean Burgmayer stated that there was no option for making any exceptions in regards to students walking after missing a class necessary to graduate and the process to change this would be to collect the entire faculty to vote to change it, and that the Graduate Council had no jurisdiction to make an exception.

Currently, there are multiple conversations between faculty and students to change how the course operates, including the name that is being changed to recognize how power, privilege and oppression come into social work practice. This is in direct response to Kristin’s act of self-preservation, as well as the complaints and suggestions to update the course curriculum. While this is happening, Kristin is still being denied the ability to walk. 

As students of Bryn Mawr College who have an obligation to operate in an ethical and responsible way and we stand with marginalized students on campus to create a better environment that addresses unjust and unethical policies and practices of the college as they happen and doesn’t leave anyone behind based on a sense of equality that doesn’t act justly to matters when necessary.

Because of these obligations, we demand the following actions:

 1.     Allowing our colleague Kristin to walk at Commencement with her class.

Kristin should be allowed to walk at Commencement on May 19th, 2018 with her class, who she has connected to and grown with, given that she takes the revised course covering cultural competency and diversity within social work practice according to the CWSE accreditation standards. Kristin is taking the revised course in Summer 2018. We currently believe that Bryn Mawr has the capacity to allow Kristin to walk, since she has already agreed to take the new course and will do so now that the faculty of GSSWSR has agreed that the course Multiculturalism and Diversity needs a radical change in structure, topics and discussion facilitation.

 2.     Change the policy of not allowing students to walk.

The college should have changed the policy where students aren’t allowed to walk at Commencement, a gesture only that would allow students to feel like they are part of their class from beginning to end. This could create stronger alumni networks and more positive feedback for the college. Bryn Mawr takes the time to ensure that classmates feel connected to the college and their class year as a tradition, and why wouldn’t this be part of that? Students shouldn’t be punished because of an outdated syllabus that force marginalized students to defend their identities. Students like Kristin should be applauded for speaking out and wanting to improve the school. The GSSWSR faculty recognized that the course needs to be changed, but there also needs to recognize the collateral damage to students based on the current course’s problematic and unsafe nature.

 3.     Provide justice and support for marginalized students.

The undergraduate students and GSSWSR students have both been subjected to countless microaggressions, acts of violence, and erasure that are detrimental to the Bryn Mawr Community, and that are directly against the mission of Bryn Mawr to live and work together in a community based on mutual respect. The reality is that oppression exists and is a material reality for many. The college has an obligation to better itself by learning from and respecting students who will enter into society as the responsible citizens that Bryn Mawr wants. If Bryn Mawr "values critical, creative and independent habits of thought and expression," then it needs to do that in practice by listening to the most marginalized students.  As the college presents itself as a sanctuary school, it also needs to step up in concrete ways for marginalized students as we are being targeted in this country. Threats to women’s rights, civil rights and human rights have continued to rise since November 2016, and Bryn Mawr claims to work hard to foster a community that always strives to be supportive, inclusive and respectful to all members, which it has currently failed to do. Striving together to enacting change and healing in the world today and prepare the next generation of leaders means taking the time to step up as privileged people and accommodating for those who are the most vulnerable, including our own students. Bryn Mawr needs to work as an entire community to achieve this.

As students of Bryn Mawr, we expect and look to our college to treat us with respect as learners of this institution, to teach us to be responsible citizens and stand up for one another, and to teach us to challenge our own biases to expand our thinking. When a course doesn’t live up to these standards, not only does it have to be changed, but institutions have an obligation to repair the damage and uphold justice, not just equality. Because of this, we agree to stand with each other to ensure that Bryn Mawr College upholds the standards of their mission and values.

 "I have a hard time accepting diversity as a synonym for justice. Diversity is a corporate strategy.” -Angela Davis

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