Co-Authored by Mud Bentley
On Thursday, March 31, student demonstrators sat in at Eliot Hall, protesting the racist behavior of Professor Paul Currie and the Administration’s response. This followed a day of protests and sit-ins on Wednesday, March 30 by the student body.
As the clock turned to 11:00, students began streaming into Eliot. Some had gotten there early to make preparations, occupying the room across from President Audrey Bilger’s office and laying out an array of snacks, water bottles, and first aid supplies. One student who was directing others to action said that the protest did not have any specific “organizers” per se, but that some students had stepped up to provide plans, resources, and guidelines for others to follow. The protesters were “functioning as a community.” The student was optimistic about the protests, noting that despite the lack of central organization, Thursday’s protests felt more organized than Wednesday’s. Reed’s Night Owls were also on the scene, ready to hand out supplies and actively hauling up more.
The extensive graffiti which had been posted on Eliot’s walls the previous day had mostly been left up. Only names and contact information of specific people and the most sexually explicit lines of graffiti had been scrubbed. Posters were distributed that reiterated what Student Body President Safi Zenger wrote in an email to the student body that morning, calling for students to refrain from further vandalization due to its burden on custodians. “Reed custodians are mostly people of color and are some of the lowest-paid employees on campus. Graffiti only hurts them by causing extra work and longer hours,” the poster said. “Staff has no desire to censor or police your language or emotions (we stand with you). We do want to look out for one of the most vulnerable populations on campus.”
Following the advice of Zenger and others, protestors refrained from putting up graffiti in Eliot. Instead, large sheets of paper and markers were placed outside Bilger’s office, allowing people to write demands and grievances and post them on the walls without leaving any permanent damage. During the protest, numerous posters were put up on Eliot’s walls, including those which contained messages and calls to action from students. Other posters included print-outs of Reed’s bylaws and the aforementioned anti-vandalism papers.
Students set up a speaker and microphone, as Senate members and other students addressed the demonstrators, calling for student solidarity and collective reflection on racism found on campus. One speaker asked for the student body to reflect on their actions and attempt to “Build a political consciousness.” Another mentioned the possibility of a vote to march to leave Eliot and face Bilger, who was stationed outside Commons at that time. They also reminded participants not to take any photos without consent.
By 11:30 a.m., there were at least 200 students in the building with no faculty insight. The hall was completely filled and students spilled up and down the stairwells. There was very little room to walk around, and anyone trying to navigate would have to step over students sitting in the hall, chatting and doing their homework. There was some chaos; A water fountain burst a leak in the middle of the hall. Many students unsuccessfully tried to plug the leak with paper towels, and many unfortunate backpacks were soaked through.
As this was happening, President Bilger, Vice President for Student Life Karnell McConnell-Black, Dean of Faculty Kathy Oleson, and Dean of Institutional Diversity Tony Boston were sitting in the tent outside of Commons, answering questions from students. Approximately a dozen students were conversing with Bilger, and a few were chatting with other administrators.
At around 11:50, Audrey informed the students speaking with her that, due to the large crowd apparently gathered at Eliot, she would have to table the discussion and visit Eliot. She and Kathy Oleson departed for Eliot. When the two of them arrived, they stood outside the building, conversing. Inside Eliot, word spread that Bilger and Oleson were outside the building. Students did not go out to greet them, but shouted for them to come into the building: “Kathy come upstairs!” they chanted. But neither Oleson nor Bilger entered Eliot and after some time both returned to the tent.
The sit-in continued. Numerous speakers gave speeches at the microphone. Speaking with the Quest, one student lamented the lack of political organization at the college, hoping that the current protests would reinvigorate student interest in autonomous organization and activism. A staff member present noted that, while Reed staff does have to go through racial bias training, the faculty does not. They also expressed skepticism that any simple 90-minute training would change anything, and that only “serious training, something to make them feel uncomfortable for a whole 3-month course” might begin to start changing minds.
One attendee of the protest was Anthony Effinger, a reporter with Willamette Week, who spent about forty-five minutes interviewing students and taking images of the protest. Later that day, an article titled “Reed Students Occupy Admin Building for Second Day Seeking Ouster of Professor Caught Racially Profiling Workers on TikTok” was posted on the Willamette Week’s website, which discussed the recording of Currie, administration and student responses, and attempted doxxing of protestors by members of the alt-right.
Many of the protestors in Eliot turned their attention to getting rid of the graffiti that had been put up the day before, and one speaker was met with applause when they encouraged students to help clean. Cleaning supplies were passed out to the protesters and they began scrubbing the walls of anything they had left yesterday. Some students, perhaps too enthusiastic about helping, brought acetone to deal with hard-to-scrub marks. The fumes from cleaning agents were overwhelming; demonstrators called for everyone to stop mixing chemicals and using acetone.
Despite some missteps, the zeal with which students cleaned up the graffiti was met with wide support and excitement. Faculty and staff emerged from their offices to watch or join in on the cleaning, pleasantly surprised at the collective gesture. One member of Facilities Services addressed the crowd with tears in his eyes, telling the gathered demonstrators how much he cared about Reed and its community, and how much it meant to him to see all of their efforts.
By 2:00, Bilger and Boston were still in the tent, though there were no students asking them questions. But at about 2:30, Bilger finally entered Eliot to speak with the protestors. The adversarial crowd criticized the lack of action from the administration and questioned Bilger about the Administration’s response and the timeline of proceedings against Currie.
According to a transcript of this discussion, many decried “self-care tips” and other emails they had received from the Administration, particularly from Student Life. “When is it gonna go beyond emails, I think, is what we’re all wondering,” said one student.
Students also questioned why individuals other than Paul Currie who have accusations of harassment against them, such as Dean of Admissions Milyon Trulove, are still employed by the college.
After about 20 minutes of discussion, Bilger announced that she had to leave to attend a meeting, to much derision from the crowd. Some students accused Bilger of feeling threatened by the student body and running away, both on Thursday and during the demonstration on Wednesday. Bilger denied that she was running away and said, “I never felt threatened, I did not feel threatened for an instant yesterday, I was glad to hear from you. I mean, even though it’s hard, I’m glad to hear from you, it’s important.” Audrey left, and the demonstration continued. By the time another hour had passed, most students had dispersed to the winds, prepared to continue their activism another day.