A group of Duke University student activists stormed the stage in Page Auditorium during an alumni reunion event Saturday to protest institutional problems and state a list of the group’s demands.
Their coalition’s demands include implementing a $15 per hour pay for all Duke employees, hiring more diverse faculty members, renaming the Carr Building and making the Board of Trustees meetings more open and transparent.
These demands, along with others, are listed in the People’s State of the University, a document composed by the coalition that highlights multiple injustices occurring at Duke along with a course of action proposed by the group.
The coalition that created the People’s State of the University is comprised of student representatives from almost every major affinity organization on campus, organizer Trey Walk said.
The activists who overthrew the stage were met with a combination of support and hostility from the audience, mainly composed of graduates.
“As we were walking out it was extremely hard because you have one person who’s shouting at you at the top of their lungs, putting up their middle finger and is probably ready to spit on you, and other people are clapping and cheering you on as you're walking out of the auditorium,” Bryce Cracknell, another organizer, said. “It was an incredible mix of reactions.”
While the response from the graduates was mixed, the protesters received overwhelming support from their peers.
“Fellow students joined us in front of the Chapel,” Cracknell said. “Since then, our student government has reached out to us and has already started a resolution in support of our actions and the demands.”
Though the event sparked interest among Duke students and increased the size of the coalition, Duke’s administration has stayed quiet in terms of responding to the students’ demands.
"I think what we've been most stunned by is the lack of response from administration,” Walk said. “For all of these students to take action and for none of the administrators to reach out to us and follow up afterward has been really disappointing. We've also been disappointed by the fact that the administration hasn’t said anything about the hateful things that the alum said and did towards us.”
The group was disappointed and shocked when a number of the protesters received emails from the Office of Student Conduct saying Duke is launching an inquiry into the matter in order to determine whether to proceed with possible university disciplinary action, the coalition said in a press release.
Kenneth Andrews, professor and chairperson of the sociology department at UNC, was not surprised by the lack of a response by Duke’s administration. He said it's rare schools respond immediately and when they do, it's often to figure out a way to get the protesters to stop.
“Part of what the protest is doing is pushing to get the ball rolling," Andrews said. "Sometimes that can drag on and not really produce anything, and sometimes it can get different groups coming together or different authorities on campus or allies of the movement. It can help them push for whatever goal the activists are trying to bring about.”
Andrews said the protesters' bold choice in location helped the group gain momentum, followers and a potential response from the school.
He said the event brought together a lot of alumni, which will happen again around graduation.
"Those are natural targets for activists because they provide a point when the university is trying to present a particular side of itself, and if a protest challenges or disrupts that, it means that the university might be more likely to respond. The protest might be more likely to get their attention."
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