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Working Together Toward a New Path

May 7, 2024

The message below was sent on Monday, May 6, 2024.

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

I so often hear from students, parents, and alums that one of the things that they cherish most about Bryn Mawr is that we instill in our students a sense that they have the power and the ability to effect positive change…on our campus, in our country, and in the world. We have done so by working as a community with shared values of mutual respect and self-governance, not just as a student body but as individuals as well. I have tried to help navigate a path for Bryn Mawr that allows for peaceful protest while centering our educational mission and shared commitment to be inclusive. I realize that not every choice has been successful, but I continue to believe that our community will find a different way together based on learning and hope.

I am mindful of the need to balance urgency -- locally concerning the College’s upcoming Commencement and all it means for students and their families who have sacrificed so much, and globally in terms of the ongoing war in the Middle East and the terrible loss and dislocation of civilian life -- with the capacity to pause in difficult times to learn from our differences, affirm our commonalities, and look out for each other while pursuing societal change.

To navigate the different way that I am suggesting, we all must engage, so I am sharing a path forward with all faculty, staff, and students. I offer it with humility, knowing that it can only succeed in a partnership with so many of you who have already expressed a willingness and desire to do this constructive work together.

Considerations of Our Campus Context
For most of this year, students have engaged in peaceful protest. It looked like we differed from other schools in modeling advocacy that reflected understanding and respect for each other when views diverged. Even as we were clear that we would protect the right to express differing views of aspects of the conflict, we also asked both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli advocates to refrain from using expressions that many experience as antisemitic, anti-Arab, or anti-Muslim. We have provided education about the harm others felt when such expressions were used, even when those who used them stated that they were not using them with that intent. We have shared that persisting in using these expressions could violate the Honor Code, which requires attention to the impact of actions on others.

With the encampment, using specific expressions, justified as free speech, has caused harm. For many on and beyond campus, these words and images are understood as calls for the elimination of Jewish people, despite the fact that for others, they signify a call for Palestinian unity and sovereignty. Students hear these words chanted outside their dorm rooms when trying to study or sleep and see them all over when they walk around campus. During rallies these words have been shouted through bullhorns and echoed by crowds. We have had reports that posters expressing similar sentiments were brought into the classrooms with little regard for the feelings and beliefs of all students present. I recently was sent this opinion essay, written by a protest participant at Princeton, which crystallized concerns about the consequences of protestor language selection in a firsthand way that I could not have fully expressed. I share it with you in the hope that it gives some insight into how different people can hear exactly the same words in different ways.

In my heart, I do not believe that a single Bryn Mawr student intends to inflict anguish upon another, but we all need to recognize that our words, even when we may feel justified in their use, have the power to do so. And students on our campus are being subjected to this experience repeatedly. Inflicting harm in this way is not OK, and it needs to stop. Protests against an institution can happen without this impact on other members of the Bryn Mawr community. To be clear, the issue for community members is not the act of protest but the use of particular expressions that are experienced as harassing and intimidating while doing so.

We have received a large number of bias complaints, and we must address each of those fully and fairly. We also have an obligation to carry out planned activities that benefit all of the students of the College, and this underpinned our request that the encampment move to a nearby location, a request that was ignored. We now need to move forward with preparation for graduation.

It is in this context that we moved to engage in our Honor Board/Dean’s Panel processes to address violations of the Honor Code and associated disruptions in the activities of the College. There have been questions about the two processes that I want to address here. These Panels are conducted with fairness and compassion for all involved, and they focus on accountability and finding ways to repair the harm that has occurred in our community. The College views both processes as ways to hold individuals accountable for actions that may violate the Honor Code, which all students commit to following at the start of their time at Bryn Mawr, and both offer opportunities for students to be heard in a fair and supportive process. In some situations, however, the Honor Board is not an appropriate vehicle for addressing social issues; in those cases, the Dean’s Panel will be engaged. An Honor Board cannot be convened, for example, when a non-student is the confronting party or when there are issues of violations not of the social code but of administrative requirements that have been put in place for the well-being of undergraduate students or the larger community.

Beyond these individual resolutions, however, my desire is to find a reset so that we can work together to take steps forward. Throughout this year, when we were presented with demands, we have tried to take an approach that identifies and, when appropriate, responds to the underlying goals or intents of the demands, sometimes proposing or providing alternative approaches that meet, at least in part, the requests behind a specific demand while aligning with our educational mission and values. Many students, faculty, and staff have supported this work, and I share a few examples below. These include future commitments that we believe are important not just to protestors but to all of our students as we fulfill our obligation to educate about world conflict and how to become change agents. Again, this is a collaborative process and will require all of our campus constituencies to come together if we are to succeed in regaining the sense of mutual trust and community care that have defined Bryn Mawr at its best.

Growing Understanding of the Issues
The College has stated that we will not make a declaration in support of a cease-fire. However, as a community, we have worked to educate and learn about the complexities of that approach. Students have taken a leadership role in developing programming from different perspectives, and we are grateful for this work. We will continue to focus on education around the history and current events of the Middle East, linked with necessary questions about transnational histories, next year via programming led by the faculty (with the strong support of the Provost’s Office), and other campus resources, and we will continue to support student efforts in shaping our focus.

Providing Support for Student Advocacy
A point of pride for our campus this year was the amount of education that took place around advocacy and dialogue. This included programming by the Career and Civic Engagement Center in the form of workshops on building dialogue and engaging in safe protest. I was also moved by students' work to create programming to educate each other and our community. While the institution will not itself take a particular position of advocacy with government leaders or support a particular position, it can and will support students who want to use their power to influence those who make U.S. policy and those who provide direct aid to those affected. These efforts can make a meaningful difference to those who have the power to act or to help. We will provide support for student advocacy and student work to assist aid efforts beyond the campus. We welcome new ways of doing that, learning from our collective experiences this year.

Learning About the Endowment and Sharing Perspectives
Because of the strong work of the College’s Investment Office, with the oversight of the Board of Trustees, the College is a leader among non-profit endowments in the ways that it engages in socially responsible investing. (See the appendix below for more information on the College’s approach.) This approach takes an expansive view of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as compared to privileging a single issue.

The endowment is managed by the Investment Office professionals best positioned to evaluate investment performance and the social responsibility of particular investment strategies. The Board oversees this work and its alignment with our mission and values. The endowment cannot be managed for activism by individuals or committees whose members have no education or experience in investing or are only interested in singular points of influence with no responsibility for the impact of investment choices on performance. There are, however, opportunities for students to engage with the Administration, Board, and/or the Board Investment Committee to share community values and concerns. For example, the Committee on Investment Responsibility met with students about the topic of fossil fuel investment, and the Chair of the Board and the President offered an educational session on the endowment in April. We will provide additional educational sessions on the endowment next year, which will be open to the entire community. These sessions can include the constructive sharing of different campus perspectives and concerns. Students already have other opportunities to engage with the Board, and we commit to engaging in collaborative discussion regarding possibilities for shaping this student/Board engagement.

How We Might Move Forward…Together
The work referenced above is ongoing and is not short-term. It will require the commitment and work of multiple College entities and the collaboration of administration, faculty, staff, and students. We will ask the Campus Partnership for Equity and Antiracism (CPEAR), a group founded after the student strike of 2020, which is composed of students, faculty, staff, trustees, and administration members, to help us ensure that all voices who so desire are heard and that commitments from all are honored.

We make all of the above commitments in good faith, not as empty gestures of appeasement, but rather as real movements that have a chance to make a difference. We ask, again in good faith, that the area on Merion Green be cleared so that we can prepare for and observe Commencement – not as a denial of suffering in the world, but as an expression of the fulfillment of personal and academic aspiration that also fuels human life.

Moving forward with this approach takes us out of the framework of winning or losing and into a framework of collective forward movement and positive impact.

I am grateful for the outreach of many faculty who have offered their help and support. I am grateful, too, for the commitment of our staff, who have worked hard to support efforts to keep the community safe. This work has come at a personal cost for many, and I could not be more grateful.

I hope that those who read this message recognize our shared commitment to making Bryn Mawr and the world a better place and will join in the important work of moving forward together.


Kim Cassidy


Appendix A:
The College’s endowment exists to support the mission of the College. This means it provides critical support for financial aid, wages for faculty, students, and staff, and programmatic additions and innovations. Growth in these areas in recent years is largely due to the development of the endowment through philanthropy and investment performance. To put it another way, high-endowment returns contribute to social responsibility.

The College does not invest in individual stocks or companies but in managers and their strategies. Importantly, because the College and the Investment Office care about socially responsible investing, the two most important criteria they use to select managers are their performance (because the more money the endowment returns, the more money we have to invest in our mission and people) AND the manager’s attention to ESG and DEI in their strategy selection. In addition to mindful selection, the Investment Office partners with managers to share and advance best practices in ESG-DEI. We are also committed to monitoring impact and adjusting our strategy. A recent survey showed that the vast majority of our managers have strong ESG policies. With these actions, we are leaders in our approach and how we hold ourselves accountable for how our policies are working.

There are also practical reasons that we cannot divest. We cannot extract individual investments since we invest in strategies rather than individual securities. In addition, some of our investments are illiquid, meaning we do not control when we can withdraw our investments.

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