So another protest is happening at Duke. If you go here, you’ve probably figured this out by now. If you don’t, you’re probably asking, “What do you mean by another?”
Well… Here’s what you need to know.
Who is protesting?
Since Friday, April 1st, there have been nine undergraduate students occupying the Allen building on campus and an array of students gathered in support outside the building as part of a “sit in protest.”
The protest is being led and organized by a group called Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity, a “group of students & workers in solidarity and in struggle together against the culture of institutional racism and violence at Duke University.”
The nine students that initiated the Allen Building sit-in (and are in there now) are Mina Ezikpe, Cindy Li, Ashlyn Nuckols, Amy Wang, Carolyn Yao, Sydney Roberts, Lara Haft, Jazmynne Williams and Dipro Bhowmik.
What are they protesting about?
Well, the answer is complicated and is probably different for every person involved.
At the most basic level, the protesters are calling for the dismissal of three Duke administrators in response to BOTH an event that occurred in 2014 – in which Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III allegedly hit parking attendant Shelvia Underwood with his car and yelled a racial slur – and more generally, the alleged hostile and discriminatory treatment of the Duke Parking and Transportation Services staff by the Duke administration.
The protesters have 7 total demands, which can be found here. In addition to the removal of Tallman Trask, VP of Administration Kyle Cavanaugh, and Parking and Transportation Services (PTS) Director Carl DePinto, they have demanded that Trask issue a public apology for the incident, that he pay reparations to Ms. Underwood, that Duke conduct an independent investigation, that minimum wage for Duke employees and sub-contracted workers be raised to $15 an hour, and that there be increased financial transparency on behalf of the administration.
They have also asked that workers be allowed to be present during negotiations, saying that, “The administration… has denied workers and other community members from joining the table.”
But this happened in 2014… why are people protesting now?
There’s no doubt that the initial kickstarter for these protests were the two investigative pieces published by The Chronicle. On Monday, February 29th, The Chronicle published an investigative piece reexamining the incident in 2014. What they found didn’t make Trask look very good. One day later, on Tuesday, March 1st, The Chronicle published a second investigative piece detailing a “hostile, discriminatory environment” within the Parking and Transportation Services department.
However, while these pieces provoked varying inflammatory responses from the Duke community, by the end of the following week, all of the students had left for spring break.
During this time, on Monday, March 14th, Shelvia Underwood filed a civil suit (yes, this is the ACTUAL suit, it’s on public record) against Trask AND Duke (this becomes important later on).
The day students returned from break, March 22nd, Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity published an Op-Ed in The Chronicle demanding accountability from the Duke administration and outlining what would soon become their set of demands. They continued to launch a campaign leading up to a walk-out on Friday, April 1st at 3:30. By 4:42 pm, it had been announced that nine students were occupying that Allen building.
Though there may be a number of reasons, strategic or otherwise, for the delay, we know that the discoveries made by The Chronicle articles ignited something in this particular group of students.
What’s been Duke’s response?
Well, to put it bluntly, Duke is in a shitty position. As the second plaintiff in Ms. Underwood’s civil suit, they are extremely limited in what they are able to say – which doesn’t sit well with a group of protesters demanding accountability.
Administrators have met several times with the nine students occupying Allen. On Saturday, they told students inside the building that would be asked to leave Sunday and that if they don’t, “they will be in violation of university policies, subject to disciplinary action, and trespassing.” On Sunday evening, it was announced that there would be no disciplinary actions against the students (amnesty for these students was one of their original demands.)
On Monday, April 4th, Trask released a public apology (satisfying another one of the student demands) regarding his incident with contract parking attendant Shelvia Underwood. Shortly after, administrators stated that they would not continue negotiations with students sitting in the Allen Building until they leave the building because of the disruptions caused by closing the building Monday. They also sat down for a Q&A with The Chronicle, in which they said they believed had shown good faith to the protesters.
The administration has said that they will not continue to negotiate until the students leave the building.
In response, the protesters have recently said that they “will be staying indefinitely until (their) demands are met.”
So where are we now? Right now, we’re stuck.
For more detailed information on the activities of the protesters, you can visit the Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity Facebook and Twitter pages directly. Stay tuned for future updates.