Students organize protest in front of Old Main in response to safety concerns

By Sarah Frazer || Staff Writer

This past Tuesday, April 10th, students held a protest outside of Old Main that was in response to what they viewed as insufficient concern on the college’s part for the safety of its female students. In the words of Anna Zwirn, one of the organizers, “the protest was in direct response to the administration’s lack of concern for female students who were reporting assaults done onto them by MProtective officers.”

MProtective was hired by F&M in an attempt to make parties safer for students; however, many students argue that the security service has had the opposite effect due to the misbehavior of some of its officers. The response to these reports has many unsatisfied. Zwirn argues, “the firing of MProtective occurred only after students with the privilege to be heard conducted an investigation into specific social media posts created by MProtective officers. Along with numerous clubs such as S.A.V.E., individual students have written to the administration with their concerns about the collective safety of the student body, all of which were immediately silenced. This protest was meant to serve as a space where, regardless of privilege, students could be seen standing in solidarity around an issue that we care deeply about: safety.”

According to Zwirn, “Franklin & Marshall seems to consistently silence groups of women, LGBTQ+ students, and students of color. This consistency is alarming, and not a part of the institutional description I was fed on my campus tour as a prospective student. I do not want our administration’s lack of concern for any student to be elusive anymore. Because of this, and because I was tired of participating in static conversations that focused on the problems with our campus, I decided it was time to try and create some solutions.”

The protest was “cultivated through conversations that occurred in my Sociology of Sexuality class,” Zwirn explained, adding that “in planning the event, no other groups on campus were consulted, as it was not meant to be led by any one person or persons, but rather the momentum of current discourses regarding safety were supposed to be carried through each individual student.”

And many individual students showed up. Zwirn estimates the number of students in attendance to have been about 120. She was unsure about how many students would show up. On the event’s Facebook page, “around 300 students signed up as either ‘going’ or ‘interested,’” so the turnout was expected. Tuesday’s protest was directed at the entire administration, and “no one specific administrator was meant to be targeted,” says Zwirn.

In terms of the specific goal of the protest, Zwirn explains it “was to stand silently, in order to allow the voices of marginalized groups, voices that lack privilege, and voices of those who are continually silenced, to be recognized and validated.”

According to Zwirn, the event leading up to the protest spanned months: “The discourses occurring among students regarding security, safety, and transparency have grown in the last few months. In response to these discourses, this protest’s goal was to combat our institution’s continuous support of an oppressive, racist, marginalized, silence-promoting, victim-shaming, and sexual assault perpetuating environment.”

Zwirn continued, “many female students came forward to the administration about their concerns regarding how the college handles cases of sexual misconduct, specifically with issues of assault that occurred with MProtective Security. After silencing many groups (females, non cisgender members of our community, students of color – this list is by no means exhaustive) a myriad of times, the administration has made evident to me, and to others, that the they do not place the safety and security of its students as its top priority, as they so proudly advertise.” In response to the lack of concern she saw, Zwirn took action.

This action includes discussions with members of F&M’s administration that occurred prior to Tuesday’s demonstration.

Zwirn “[has] met numerous times with President Porterfield, Dean Flores Mills, and Dean Hazlett regarding the issues of safety on this campus over my 4 years. These issues ranged from sexual violence and assault, to the lack of available escorts for students returning from libraries, to the sheer absence of lighting. I have also had extensive talks with the chief of Public Safety regarding the lack of protocols set in place for an active shooter scenario. The school actually prevents public safety officers from running drills in vacant dorms over winter, spring, and summer break. Why? Safety is simply not this administration’s priority. Every meeting I had with these administrators ended the same: I was told that the issues would be taken under advisement, but immediate action would have to wait, as there were more pressing issues that needed to be dealt with. I find it hard to prioritize a ‘more pressing issue’ than student safety and security. “

In terms of the success of the protest, Zwirn views it as a “step in the right direction. The duration was only about 15 minutes, which is understandable due to class schedules and prior commitments. But I do believe that the simple fact that around 120 students attended shows our collective need to be heard.” In terms of next steps, Zwirn is hoping that underclassmen will carry on the work of those graduating in May. She stressed again that “no one, regardless of race, privilege, or how they identify, should feel silenced by an institution that claims to value ALL voices. I have personally spoken to a few dozen alumnae, who are outraged by the current campus climate. Many have agreed to pull donations until they see real, concrete action from the administration.” Ultimately, Zwirn says, “from an institutional perspective, I hope to see the administration enact a zero tolerance policy for students who are found guilty of sexual assault.”

Zwirn urges students to look at their own behavior as well. She explains, “moving forward, I hope that our students, both current and alumnae, can continue to question not only the choices made by our administration, but also our individual choices and how they affect our campus climate. Many students target their anger at the administration; however the larger and more systemic issues come from the students themselves. Before placing blame at an institutional level, we need to take a look at how we perpetuate the very things we are trying to change. We need to ask ourselves, ‘are we holding each other accountable?’, ‘are we actively working to create the inclusive spaces we frequently discuss, but rarely do anything about?’, and ‘are we willing to accept responsibility for the lack of change in these spaces?.’

This issue matters personally to Zwirn, who since her freshman year, “[has] personally known four women who have been raped at Franklin and Marshall. Each of their cases was brought under the internally handled sexual misconduct advisory board, and in each case, the four perpetrators were found guilty. After being dismissed for one semester, the perpetrators were allowed, after reapplying to the college, to return to campus, equipped with, among other things, their victim’s class schedule (the explanation for this is to prevent them from signing up as the same classes as their victim). Not only were my friends not alerted to the fact that their attackers had returned, some ended up living in the same building as their assailants. After countless questions I, along with others, have posed to the administration at various forums regarding the process of reporting and following through with a sexual assault claim, the answers have been opaque. As one administrator put it, [it is] ‘too difficult for me to understand.’ What I understand, very clearly in fact, is that my education is valued just as highly as someone who has been found guilty of rape. And that is not something I can sit quietly with. How can anyone be proud of an alma mater that expels students who plagiarize, but not students who rape?”

Zwirn “actively encourages” other F&M students to continue to [voice] their concerns loudly and unapologetically.” According to her, “we are a small campus community. Just being an active bystander and speaking up when you know something is wrong, can make a world of difference. Blending in and cowering behind the institutions that hold power does not make an individual any less culpable. Let your frustration with the current systems motivate and push you to speak out not only for yourself, but also for those who do not have the privilege or the voice to do so.” She contends that “we, as a student body, should no longer stand behind an institution that refuses to acknowledge the consequences of their uninformed decisions. We should no longer accept current forums where ideas are proposed, but no solutions are created. Instead, we should strive to expand our campus discourse and refuse to tolerate any and all injustice done onto us not only by our administration, but also by each other.” 

Junior Sarah Frazer is a Staff Writer. Her email is sfrazer@fandm.edu.

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