Protesters occupied Duke University’s main administrative building for a fifth day Tuesday, as negotiations with Duke officials remain stalled.
Duke closed the building for a second day, and the protesters showed no sign of leaving.
Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s vice president for public affairs and government relations, said the shutdown of the Allen Building had caused significant disruption. In an email, he said the university had to relocate or cancel some 35 classes, affecting about 1,000 students. Employees had moved to other offices or worked from home.
Nine protesters began occupying the building on Friday. They issued seven demands, two of which have been met by Duke – amnesty for the protesters and a public apology by a top administrator. But negotiations broke down Monday, and Duke officials said they would resume talks only when the students left the building voluntarily.
Representatives of the group Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity told reporters Tuesday that they wanted to continue talks, but Duke refused to allow workers a seat at the table.
Protest organizers said Duke’s decision to close the building was unnecessary and aimed at casting the protesters’ campaign in a negative light.
“The administration’s attempt to blame occupiers for restricting access to the Allen Building is a clear attempt by the University to distract all of us from the issues at hand: the workers’ abuse that they are allowing to continue,” said Felicia Arriaga, a doctoral student in sociology.
Demands have focused on the treatment of workers in the university’s parking and transportation services and in particular, a 2014 incident in which Duke executive vice president Tallman Trask III hit a contract worker with his Porsche on campus. The employee, Shelvia Underwood, has sued Duke and Trask, claiming that he uttered a racial slur at her during the episode. Trask is white; Underwood is black.
Trask issued a public apology Monday while saying the details of the incident remain in dispute.
As the sit-in progressed, the quad outside the Allen Building was also inhabited by supporters who stayed in tents despite much cooler weather.
Late in the day, the Duke Chronicle student newspaper posted an email interview with one of the sit-in participants, who said the protesters plan to stay in the building indefinitely, until their demands are met.
Among the demands: termination of Trask and two other administrators; payments by Trask to Underwood for medical and legal bills; an outside investigation of the Trask incident and discrimination complaints in the parking department; a review of Duke’s standards for contract employees; transparency in the recruitment of Duke administrators; a living wage of at least $15 an hour for workers.
Also, the Rev. William Barber, president of the NAACP in North Carolina and a leader of the Moral Monday movement, visited the campus Tuesday and spoke to protesters outside, according to the Chronicle.
In a Chronicle video posted on Twitter, Barber said Duke wouldn’t allow clergy inside the building to pray with protesters. “These students should be celebrated, rather than castigated,” he said.