Student protests target BOV
February 15, 2008
p. Candles, armbands, pins, flyers, petitions, banners, signs, slogans, marches, speeches, megaphones, e-mail, Facebook, demands, town meetings, events, sit-ins and teach-ins.
p. Gene Nichol’s resignation as president of the College has prompted protests throughout the student body. There is no real organization behind the protests. De facto student leaders of what has been called the “Solidarity Movement” have established themselves over the last two days, planning events in conjunction with members of the College faculty and staff.
p. “This is what universities do,” Provost Geoffrey Feiss, as he visited student protestors in the Sunken Garden Thursday, said. “This is why we’re here. This is what it’s all about.”
p. Within hours of Nichol’s e-mail announcing his resignation in the face of the Board of Visitors decision not to renew his contract, students and faculty crowded around the steps leading to the Sunken Garden to give speeches in protest.
p. Facebook messages and e-mails announcing the avalanche of pro-Nichol events began to pile up in the students’ inboxes. Various groups consolidated into a highly vocalized, demonstrative organization led by students.
p. “Facebook was the primary tool in getting this organized,” Devan Barber ’08, a leader of the demonstrations, said. “After [Nichol’s] e-mail on Tuesday, different groups began planning the sit-in and [the singing of the] Alma Mater.”
p. Many of the students at the protests described the entire process as very grassroots and organic, with no formal leaders or campus organization undertaking the role of spearheading the effort.
p. Tuesday night, a pro-Nichol candlelight vigil took place outside the president’s house. Hundreds of students, faculty, staff and alumni showed up, holding up candles and singing the Alma Mater after Nichol addressed the crowd.
p. Wednesday, an all day sit-in was organized at the University Center, along with a crowded Town Hall meeting among the protestors in the UC Commonwealth auditorium. A petition, written by David Souleles ’08 and Alexander Danvers ’08, demanded BOV accountability. It circulated outside, acquiring signatures from anyone willing to sign.
p. Thursday, a teach-in took place in the Sunken Garden to show support for the faculty who had canceled their classes on Wednesday and Thursday. This was followed by a solidarity march across campus to the entrance of Millington Hall, where faculty members held a meeting to discuss the events of the past few days.
p. As the march passed campus buildings, representatives of the protestors entered atriums and classrooms, reading the list of demands compiled by students and faculty over the past two days, urged students to sign a petition demanding transparency from the BOV and handed out flyers.
p. Former student Sean Sheppard and Josh Wayland ’08 stood outside a classroom in McGlothlin-Street Hall, unsure whether or not to interrupt the class with their announcements.
p. “I don’t know if anyone knew what to expect [regarding the BOV’s decision],” Wayland said, “I think the reaction has reflected that.”
p. According to Sheppard, Nichol’s resignation provided a catalyst for students to express discontent concerning the hierarchal power structure that governs the college. Although a number of individual student groups have participated in the protests over the past two days, the common purpose has allowed them to coalesce.
p. Barber and Annie Brown ’10 are hoping that the coalescence of the various people involved with the initial backlash to the BOV’s decision will lend itself to the establishment of a long-term strategy, ultimately giving faculty, staff and students a stronger voice in choosing the next president.
p. “The goal of [Wednesday] was to figure out what we wanted to do,” Brown said. “Now we’re trying to get our message out there, get more people and take it to the BOV.”
p. Brown led Thursday’s march through campus, moving from building to building in an attempt to attract more students. Barber described it as a “study break for activism.”
p. “Whose campus? Our campus.” the students chanted as they marched. “No justice. No peace.”
p. Approximately 75 students completed the march to the steps of Millington Hall to accompany and cheer on faculty as they entered the building for their meeting.