By Walter Hickey
At 9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, 15 students from the Living Wage Coalition walked into College of William and Mary President Taylor Reveley’s office for a meeting that would evolve into a 16 hour-long sit-in. The protest resulted in five activists, several William and Mary Police Department officers, and a revolving group of two to five College administrators occupying the president’s office in the Brafferton well into the night.
The meeting, arranged by an LWC member, was halted when Reveley said that he had no intention of meeting with 15 students instead of just one. At that point, the LWC members indicated that they would not leave until the president agreed to include a living wage increase in the 2012 budget next fall.
From that point on, the LWC attempted to make the most of the president’s attention.
“We were chanting and singing songs to him. We sung the alma mater,” LWC member Shannon Davis ’13 said. “We read workers’ stories and talked about the budget. We’ve just been hanging out with him. He said he really enjoys our singing.”
The president left later in the morning to attend a luncheon in the Wren Building.
After leaving the luncheon, Reveley seemed stoic.
“Well, life goes on,” he said shortly after noon. “I’d prefer they not do it. I’m leaving them in there. They’ve had fun chanting and singing. I stayed for a while.”
The president offered his analysis of the sit-in.
“They feel very passionate about it,” Reveley said. “They feel that their view is the only reasonable view. I think that’s mistaken. We’ve talked to one another over and over about the same kind of arguments. I don’t know if it’s doing either of us any good now.”
The LWC hosted a rally in front of the Brafferton at 12:30 p.m., which was attended by approximately 45 people. Admissions tour guides were encouraged to avoid the Brafferton when finishing their tours. After the rally, the LWC invited attendees to join them in the office.
Katie Dalby ’11 claimed that, in addition to those present in the office, more than 300 alumni and outside supporters called the president’s office to indicate support for living wages. Reveley returned to the Brafferton at approximately 1:30 p.m., by which time the group had decreased significantly.
Maggie Russolello ’12 said that when Reveley returned, the group was in the middle of a “teach-in.”
“Professor Mendez and professor Cindy Hahamovitch came to us to speak about the history of labor at the College and how labor issues intersect with race issues, the history of the last living wage campaign, and how to put labor protest into context,” she said.
At 2:25 p.m. the administration changed tactics. Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler ’88 Ph. D ’06 informed the LWC that they were disrupting the normal work schedule of the College by being in Reveley’s office, and were in violation of the Student Code of Conduct Section III, A.7. Ambler said that any students remaining in the office would incur charges under the code.
“They walked around taking pictures of us with their camera phones and didn’t answer our questions,” Davis said. “She didn’t say what our punishment would be.”
Brian Whitson, Director of University Relations, said that by 2:45 p.m. five students remained.
“They were informed that if they didn’t leave they would face sanctions with the Student Conduct Council,” he said. “I think we all understand that these students care about this issue and we gave them an opportunity to express themselves.”
At this point, K.B. Brower ’11, Addie Alexander ’11, Emily Glasson ’13, Russolello and Dalby remained in the office in spite of the administration’s threat to apply sanctions. Shortly after, addressing a group of students outside of the building from a window, Russolello stated that they had been given a sanction for “disrupting a private space.” She also claimed they had been given additional sanctions, for not listening to administrators’ orders when they were instructed to disperse and for “hanging out of the window.”
Brower stated in a phone interview that the protestors were accompanied by Ambler and Dean of Students Patricia Volp. She thought there would be additional sanctions ahead.
“We’re pretty sure that at five o’clock, the failure to exit the building is going to be another violation in addition to the other four violations they’ve given us just for sitting in,” Brower said.
Brower attempted to put the day’s events in context.
“One of the violations is disruption of business,” she said. “When I think about poverty, one of the things about the poverty wage is it’s a disruption of your life.”
Outside of the Brafferton, other LWC supporters attempted to assist the office occupants. Beth Anne DeGiorgis ’11 was on the front porch with three pizzas.
“The police will not let us bring in food to the students inside,” she said.
The administration’s apparent refusal to allow food into the building upset the protestors.
“It’s been 12 hours and two of our group members are actually hypoglycemic, so there’s a lot of faintness going on in the room,” Russolello said at approximately 9:00 p.m. “It’s silly that we’re spending time negotiating about food instead of spending that time figuring out how to make living wages a reality.”
Whitson said that the administration understood some of the LWC’s arguments.
“We understand workers’ wages is an important issue with this group of students and that is why we gave them the opportunity to demonstrate in the president’s office for nearly six hours today,” he said. “We have many employees of the College who deserve much better pay than they now receive.”
By 9:00 p.m. the protestors inside the office seemed undeterred.
“By staying in the office some of us have five student conduct violations right now,” Dalby said. “We risk arrest, the most likely charge is trespassing. That could include up to a year in jail it can also mean fines of $2,500.”
Each protestor expressed her own personal reason for occupying the office.
“I think as students we should have the right to say where our money goes. The workers have more to lose by speaking up like this,” Glassman said.
Alexander said she and her fellow protesters were remaining in the office because the administrators offered no other options.
“We have to disrupt their work and make them take notice of this daily issue,” she said.
Russolello said her reasons stemmed from her upbringing.
“As someone who comes from a family that struggles to make ends meet, I know what it’s like to scrape by every month and decide between putting food on the table and being able to pay the medical bills,” she said.
Russolello said that in spite of the looming legal trouble, she remained passionate about staying in the office.
“It’s not a budget crisis, it’s a moral crisis,” she said.
The occupation of the office continued until 1 a.m.