It’s over! SWA ends 19-day sit-in

Sarah Kliff
Dan Daranciang

Student Worker Alliance members jumped out of the windows of the admissions office Friday, unofficially ending their 19-day sit-in. The protesters now have a written agreement with the University addressing their demands but remain uncertain of the judicial repercussions they face.

The end of the sit-in culminates an almost three-week occupation of the admissions office in South Brookings Hall by approximately 14 members of the Student Worker Alliance (SWA). Starting April 4, the SWA announced that it would occupy the admissions office until the University agreed to pay all campus workers a “living wage,” one of many points in the group’s proposed University “Code of Conduct.” The 19-day sit-in included a six-day hunger strike.

Vice Chancellor for Students Dean James McLeod and Vice Chancellor of Operations John Klein delivered a letter signed by Chancellor Mark Wrighton to the SWA at approximately 11:00 a.m. Friday. The letter reiterated the previous commitments made by the University, with Wrighton asserting a desire to “lay out what additional steps can be taken when your sit-in of South Brookings and the Brookings Quadrangle has come to an end.”

The final agreement reached between the SWA and the University included a commitment of $500,000 during the 2005-’06 fiscal year towards “improving the wages and benefits of lower-paid service workers,” with the amount doubling in the following year. While these numbers do not add up to the living wage demanded by the SWA, Ojiugo Uzoma, a member of the SWA, said that they are a significant step in the right direction.

“These are first steps. I know that everyone who was involved in this, when the final agreement was given, made it their goal that living wage would be on this campus,” said Uzoma. “We’ve won the battle, we haven’t won the war.”

Since the final agreement between the SWA and University includes provisions for SWA’s inclusion in further workers’ rights decisions, Uzoma is hopeful that a “living wage” will come to campus in the future.

“So far, they haven’t really given us a living wage. We’re happy with the money that we got, but we’re hoping that with having SWA people involved into allocation and looking into finding resources we will be able to get that living wage.”

The final agreement also conceded to SWA’s demand that the University join the Workers’ Rights Consortium, as well as respect the decision of employees to unionize and collectively bargain with their employers.

Shortly after meeting with Dean McLeod a second time and clarifying select points in the University’s proposed concessions, SWA members hugged and celebrated their impending return home.

“I’m taking a shower. That’s the first thing I’m going to do,” said SWA member Janine Brito. “I’m not getting a tattoo like some people here, definitely taking a shower, [then I’ll] go by the 40 and let all the workers know what we got them.”

SWA members opened the admissions office windows and notified those gathered outside at the noon rally that the sit-in had come to an end. University community members expressed their relief within minutes of the sit-in’s conclusion.

“I think we’re all happy that we can get back to normal business at the University,” said Washington University Chief of Police Don Strom. “It’s been a long three weeks, and it has been tiring for everybody, but this is a strong institution and I think we’re going to continue on with operations.”

Along with expressing relief about the sit-in’s conclusion, Chancellor Wrighton also commended the students for their contribution to the University.

“Our students, of course, care a lot about the environment in which they study and learn, and we’re very grateful to them for providing leadership on these issues,” said Wrighton.

Chrystal Wells, an Aramark employee on campus, expressed even stronger support for the sit-in. She called SWA’s progress “great” because of the compassion it showed for workers.

“I’ve never worked in a place where the students or the people you work for support you,” said Wells. “I think that is so good.”

SWA members wait for judicial consequences

While SWA members have reached an end in their sit-in, they are still waiting to see what judicial consequences their actions will bring. Approximately 15-20 protesters received judicial summons for potentially violating the University’s Judicial Code as they continued to occupy the admissions office after the University demanded that they vacate the premises.

The letter, signed by Dean of Students Justin Carroll, called the protesters’ actions “an unauthorized occupation of campus spaces and a disruption of the work of the University, in clear violation of the University’s Student Judicial Code.”

The written agreement reached Friday included the qualification that “Dean McLeod will work with individual students and administrators to resolve issues related to violations of the University’s Judicial Code in connection with the sit-in and hunger strike,” but did not specify how such violations would be addressed. McLeod responded to their queries.

“I think given the circumstances, it seems to me that sanctions can be lenient, but it seems we are going to need to discuss those with the students and with the judicial administrator,” McLeod told sit-in participants. “I can see leniency as an important thing to do, but I don’t see doing nothing as an option either,” added McLeod.

Some protesters were worried that they were in danger of losing University-provided financial aid, but McLeod noted that removing the students’ financial support as a punitive measure was “simply out of the question” and “not on the table.” McLeod noted that he had never seen a student’s financial support ended as part of sanction, and did not expect SWA members to be the first.

“The principles I operate under [are] that I’m here and the University is here to see that the students make progress,” said McLeod. “Whatever we can do to help them make progress [is] fine. Disrupting their financial support is a very distinct disruption to their progress.”

While McLeod noted that Judicial Administrator Tamara King would make the final decision on the sanctions, King could not comment on the nature of the sanctions at this point.

“It’s not really appropriate for me to talk about sanctions because of their confidential nature,” said King. “The only matter I can say is the matters will be adjudicated.”

McLeod informed students of sanctions that the University has used in the past, such as community service or writing apology letters. He also explained that “the Judicial Administrator cannot undertake suspension or expulsion.”

Sophomore Meredith Davis received one of the summonses for participating in the sit-in. After speaking with McLeod, she is confident that they appropriately address issues.

“I’m ready for the process as well as getting punishment,” said Davis. “I’m pretty much prepared for whatever happens, and I’m not going to deny what I did. Their reaction is beyond my control.”

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