Tents, couches, tables of food, and dozens of students deck the halls of Eliot Hall, Reed College’s administrative building. For the past nine days, students at Reed College have been occupying Eliot in protest of Reed College’s financial ties to Wells Fargo. The college uses Wells Fargo, infamous for being one of the primary investors in private prisons, immigration detention, the Dakota Access Pipeline, police foundations and the Israeli Apartheid (among other oppressive institutions), as its main operating bank, holding around $300,000.00 in the bank on a daily basis.
The protesters are part of a student organization called Reedies Against Racism (RAR), a black-led activist group that has highlighted more than thirty ways the school is complicit in racism, both institutionally and, as in the case of Wells Fargo, nationally and globally. Last year, RAR pressed the college for 25 demands, and, despite administrative obstructionism and threats, were successful in bringing many of them to fruition. These successes include, but are not limited to making Reed the first college campus to be a legal sanctuary for immigrants, accelerating the creation of a Comparative Race and Ethnics Studies department at Reed, hiring more black faculty, the creation of 5 social justice positions around campus and ratifying an anti-racism statement. While student protestors were condemned by the school during the protests, all of these changes were subsequently praised by the college, and much of the credit stolen by administrators and President John Kroger.
This year, in the campaign to end Reed’s financial ties to Wells Fargo, the college’s response to students occupying the administrative building has been even more aggressive. At first, the school administrators threatened students with an Honor Case, the school’s judicial process to resolve conflict with the underlying possibility for repercussions. When students remained, the administrators stated that they would recommend “more extreme sanctions” which they clarified to be suspension and expulsion. The occupation continued.
On October 31st, Reed College Vice President of Student Services Mike Brody and Dean of Students Bruce Smith issued a no-contact order against members of RAR, particularly organizers of color, banning them from occupying the offices of two administrators on counts of “harassment.” Likewise, black students were told they were “breaking and entering” into the office space even though they walked through an open door with a sign that says “come in.” The conversations that have taken place between RAR and these administrators in no way constitute harassment, and it is a disingenuous and racist tactic of the administration to paint students of color in this way.
These students are banned from entering the VP and treasurer’s office and the 3rd floor hallway of Eliot, where most of the occupation is taking place, as well as any faculty or staff office without prior consent. Sanctions include full exclusion from campus and a “referral to law enforcement” for continuing this protest in these restricted areas.
Historically, militarized police have frequently been leveraged to quell black liberation movements and silence anti-oppressive voices by fatal violence and incarceration. By threatening the police on student protesters, the administration has made it clear that they prioritize their “orderly processes” and ties to oppressive systems over the lives and livelihoods of their students of color. Reed staff and faculty have hinted all year at the potential of calling the police, and after repeatedly expressing concerns of safety, Dean of Faculty Nigel Nicholson sent out a public-wide email saying that he would not call the cops for any other reason than “imminent risk of physical harm or severe damage to property.” This promise has been broken. For students who have to continuously live under the weight of white supremacy and police brutality, and who will be targeted if the police were to show on campus, this threat is traumatic and constitutes a violation of the school’s own anti-racism statement.
Kroger then sent out a second mass email slandering the protesters, saying that they should only protest in his office lobby, “a place of symbolic power.” No substantial change can happen while working within the parameters outlined by the institution you are working to change. This can be seen at Reed both historically and presently. The conversation around the college’s financial ties to oppressive and racist systems has been ongoing for decades, but Reed has historically always refused to divest. Reed even refused to divest from the South African Apartheid. Specifically, the conversation around Reed’s ties to Wells Fargo has been happening for several years, was stated in both this and last year’s boycott demands, and still no movement or conversation has occurred.
Instead, the administration tells protesters to trust the “orderly processes” of the school, processes that prioritize debatable financial benefit over the immediate endangerment, incarceration, deportation, and murder of black people, immigrants, non-black POC, and marginalized children. Though Reed’s educational mission statement (which allows and demands exception to the Investment Responsibility Policy), claims that Reed is dedicated to making the school accessible to students of “historically marginalized backgrounds,” the college continue to disenfranchise and reinforce systems that inhibit these students from the opportunity of accessing higher education. It would be dishonorable to put one’s trust in orderly processes with misplaced priorities, without encouraging immediate and anti-racist change through pressuring the administration. By this no-contact order, Reed has proven to the community that RAR’s occupation of these two administrators’ offices is putting pressure on them. It is therefore the community’s duty to continue pressing the school to change in ways they should have been moving towards on their own.
Additionally, the board of trustees are entrusted with researching and deciding whether Reed should change their operating bank. This is an explicit conflict of interest, as several members of the trustees investment committee have personal relationships with and investments in Wells Fargo. President John Kroger himself has the power to sign RAR’s contract today, and he has repeatedly refused, saying that Reed’s investment in prison slavery is not of pressing concern. The President also has the power to call for an emergency trustee meeting to address this issue, rather than wait until the next trustee meeting. Again, Kroger continues to refuse. Conversation and “orderly processes” with a personally-invested committee and leader who does find prison slavery to be emergency enough will yield no change. Thus it is necessary and imperative to truly disrupt these systems in order to enact change.
Kroger’s email also claimed Wells Fargo had “alleged ties” to private prisons and pipelines. It is a fact that Wells Fargo is a large contributor to Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group, the top two private prison corporations in the country, and has invested more than one hundred million dollars in the Dakota Access Pipeline, as is stated on their own website. The Reed administration’s refusal to condemn or even firmly acknowledge these affiliations is abhorrent and embarrassing to an institution that claims in its official Anti-Racism Statement that it has a “responsibility to continuously learn about and disrupt systems of privilege, inequality, and oppression, and to reform our programs, policies, pedagogy, and practices in accordance with this responsibility.”
RAR is still occupying the 3rd floor of Elliot, John Kroger’s office, and the office of the administrator for whom the no-contact order was issued. RAR will continue to occupy these spaces until their demands are met, including signing the contract committing Reed to divest its money from Wells Fargo and transfer to a more ethical bank. RAR wants the content of this protest to be at the forefront of this conversation. The Reed administration should be doing everything it can to figure out how to cut financial ties with Wells Fargo and the institutions in which it invests. Instead, they are doing everything they can to figure out how to squash the protest and ostracize its organizers, students of color who have dedicated all their time and unpaid labor to this occupation and movement.
-Reedies Against Racism