Letter to the Bryn Mawr Community from Dean Balthazar

Posted September 18th, 2014 at 11:25 am.

The following email was sent to faculty, staff, and students by Dean of Studies and Interim Dean of the College Judy Balthazar on Wednesday, Sept. 17.

Dear members of the Bryn Mawr community,

On Monday, I wrote about the presence of a Confederate flag on campus and the community’s response to it.  That evening, more than a hundred students, faculty and staff met to express their upset about this incident and about the response to it; about their experiences with racism at Bryn Mawr, including those that led to last semester’s town hall meeting; about the intersection of our experiences at Bryn Mawr with the tragedy that took place in Ferguson; and about action steps to effect change.  I am writing today to update you on the situation.

To begin, I deeply regret that my initial message implied that the situation had been fully resolved, or that it was resolved through a single interaction.  In fact, it was much messier, involving multiple conversations with the students involved and conflicting advice from deans and staff.  Further, the flag remained visible through a dorm room window for several days and was not removed from view until recently.  Finally, because of my support for student self-governance, I did not mention the behind the scenes work of many members of the staff to assist the dorm leadership team and residence council heads.

I am particularly sorry for the hurt caused by my failure to acknowledge the drawn-out nature of the situation and for the implication that this was a problem that students should resolve entirely on their own.  And I especially regret the continued distress caused by the prolonged visibility of the flag.

Some members of the community may not be fully aware of the historic and contemporary significance of the Confederate flag.  The flag was of course the emblem of Southern states that seceded from the Union to maintain states’ rights to continue slavery.  The flag invokes this history of oppression for many who see it.  In more recent struggles for racial equality, various groups resisting change, such as the Ku Klux Klan, have used the flag as a rallying point.  While some refer to the flag as a symbol of regional identity, it is impossible to separate its legacy of oppression from its public display.

Yesterday, I talked at length with the students who had posted the flag.  They have assured me that the flag is no longer visible to the campus.  They have removed it from view because they wish to cause no further hurt to community members.

We treasure the diversity on our campus, but clearly there is a lot of work ahead of us to make this campus an affirming community for everyone.  There is an important role for student self-governance in addressing breaches in our community social contract.  There is an equally important role for administration to play in working with students, faculty and staff in addressing issues of race and campus climate.

I am working with President Cassidy to plan the next steps, including ways to work with key student groups and to implement ideas developed in response to last spring’s town hall, and will keep the community informed.

Judy Balthazar
Dean of Studies and Interim Dean of the College

Filed under: Announcements,For Faculty,For Staff,For students Tags: by Alyssa Banotai

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