The Age of Commencement Protests: Haverford Edition

This has taken many turns. Some students and faculty members at Haverford College protested that the proposed commencement speaker invitation extended to Robert Joseph Birgeneau should be recinded due to his position while Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. Protesters were taking aim at Birgeneau due to his position as Chancellor during the 2011 Occupy Cal incidents. The Haverford students won.

During those 2011 student protests in question, police used force to break through a line of students who were holding hands. The university had stated earlier that the students could protest, but not set up encampments. Police in riot gear pulled students’ hair and jabbed them with batons in order to remove protesters using tents. In a statement by UC Berkeley Public Affairs, the university stated that holding hands to block passage is not non-violent. Still, the abuse by police was unprecedented and unnecessary.

Back to Birgeneau. First, only states can deny the right to free speech, so at least that issue regarding Birgeneau should be put to rest (i.e., HC students were not denying anyone’s free speech as it falls outside their power). Second, it seems Birgeneau didn’t have much of a choice to “withdraw” after Haverford College “protests.” Finally, limiting the protest to Birgeneau’s leadership, or lack thereof, to the regrettable Occupy Cal incidents and subsequent police abuse of protestors is as legitimate as it is shortsighted if read in context.

No other Cal leader has done more for the as yet nonexistent rights of undocumented students than BirgeneauBirgeneau‘s leadership is not limited to one single position while Chancellor of Cal, despite admonitions to the contrary. Protests often reflect principled advocacy positions. Often, principled positions lack the capital for advocacy.

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The Age of Commencement Protests: Haverford Edition