Duke students shut down campus protest area

A student crosses the Abele quad passing by the small tent city in front of the Allen Building on Duke's west campus on April 8, 2016.
A student crosses the Abele quad passing by the small tent city in front of the Allen Building on Duke's west campus on April 8, 2016.

A tent encampment at the center of Duke University’s campus was dismantled Tuesday, with students vowing to resume their protest in the fall.

The tents sprung up nearly a month ago, when nine protesters began occupying Duke’s main administrative building. The Allen Building, which houses the president’s office, was shut down for much of the weeklong occupation.

Outside, supporters of the protest kept overnight vigil in tents. The area became known as A-ville, because it was located on Duke’s Abele Quad. It became the site of activism, teach-ins, art displays and impromptu music.

For weeks, students focused their protest on the university’s treatment of workers. The group, known as Duke Students & Workers in Solidarity, issued a list of demands, including an increase in the minimum wage for university employees, an outside investigation of Duke’s employment practices and the termination of three administrators they say acted inappropriately.

In announcing an event Tuesday to take down the tents, the group said the decision was “a pre-emptive defense against heightened security risks” as Duke plans to celebrate the last day of classes Wednesday. Two banners and a gay pride flag had been stolen recently, the group said, and a racist flier was found. The group also maintained that other students uttered homophobic slurs outside the tents Sunday night.

Danielle Purifoy, a Duke graduate student and organizer, said the protest had “really galvanized our communities, bringing students and workers together,” she said.

“When that happens, those are the conditions under which change can happen,” she added. “So we’re hopeful.”

Seven of the nine students who occupied the building had faced disciplinary action after Duke officials had granted them amnesty during negotiations on April 3, the group said. Those charges were dropped Monday, Purifoy said.

The discipline related to the use of a balcony and bathrooms outside the office suite where the students held their sit-in. The university released a statement last week saying that the balcony was not a public space and that access to rooftops was already barred by current policies.

“The students were told there would be no sanctions for their actions in refusing to leave the Allen Building when it closed, and the university has honored that commitment,” the statement said. “However, the students were also advised in writing that to reopen the building, even on a limited basis, and do so in an orderly and safe fashion, they needed to abide by existing policies which prohibit unauthorized rooftop access. The area in question is not a public space and has never been used as such.”

Jane Stancill: 919-829-4559, @janestancill