Duke senior Eduardo Torres said students escalated protests after the campus’s independent student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, published a two-part expose alleging key administrators took part in a two-year cover-up of the incident.
“They decided to take direct action, actually putting their bodies on the line for the cause,” Torres said. “Strategically, the students who decided to occupy understood that that was the most effective action to garner attention and understanding for what’s happening at the university.”
Zack Fowler, a Duke graduate who participated in the protests, said the students are sitting in on behalf of employees.
“These students are using their bodies in protest due to the special protections accorded to students by Duke that are not granted to employees,” he said. “In short, Duke does not want to arrest students.”
Up to 150 students have camped out on Abele Quad since Friday to support the sit-in, Fowler said.
Stanley Yuan, an organizer with Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity, said students have responded favorably.
“There will always be students who disagree, but I think that most students think that Duke has handled things poorly,” Yuan said.
Protesters say that administrators responded in bad faith, but administrators insist otherwise, Torres said.
Duke administration prohibited media coverage of the sit-in Sunday morning — though later lifted the ban. The administration also closed the building, claiming the sit-in and encampment could intimidate passersby.
Durham City council member Jillian Johnson said the administration surrounded the building with campus security when she and others tried to visit Sunday, but she said they were able to negotiate permission to talk to students through the door.
Then, Johnson said the dean of students instructed security to block that limited form of contact. The administration has since allowed a handful of approved faculty and graduate students to enter the building to mediate negotiations with administrators at approved times.
Johnson said students’ demand that administrators complicit in the alleged cover-up and felony hit-and-run be terminated is not unreasonable, given other Duke employees have been fired for far less.
“Legally, Duke can let anyone go at any time for any reason,” she said. “They fired a worker in the parking and transportation and services office — who had 18 years of experience — for insubordination but have been refusing to fire someone who committed a felony hit-and-run on campus.”
“I think the legal action is a very narrow form of redress,” she added. “A court case is not going to solve a vast majority of the issues that these students and workers are concerned about.”
Negotiations Monday concluded with a stand-off, Torres said.
“The administrators have refused productive dialogue until the students leave the building,” he said. “They have laid down a plan of attrition to make sure this doesn’t become a big issue that it is, the scandal that it actually is, the moral outrage that it actually evokes.”
Representatives from Duke couldn’t be reached for comment.