After a week sitting inside the Allen Building to demand better treatment of workers at Duke, sit-in students exited the building Friday afternoon following a speech by the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP.
The students initiating the Allen Building sit-in were senior Amy Wang, juniors Mina Ezikpe, Carolyn Yao and Lara Haft, sophomores Cindy Li, Ashlyn Nuckols, Jazmynne Williams and Dipro Bhowmik and freshman Sydney Roberts. Wang left the sit-in Tuesday to go to a national poetry slam contest in Texas.
When announcing that the students were leaving the building, Barber noted that they were doing so because of their health and were leaving as winners who could rejoin the movement.
“This movement isn’t going anywhere until all Duke workers are treated with dignity and respect,” Roberts, a member of The Chronicle’s editorial board, said after the students exited the building.
Roberts added that the students plan to join their supporters tenting outside the Allen Building.
“It is so good to be out,” Roberts said. “Duke’s administration has realized this movement cannot be contained, so we are moving outside. We are just getting started.”
Barber and the protestors noted that one reason students left was because they felt angry when administrators removed their amnesty on the second-floor balcony.
“When I used to be a prison chaplain, even prisoners get to go outside," Barber said. "They told these students, ‘You can’t even come outside.’ This is a kind of psychological warfare or something.”
President Richard Brodhead noted that the University is continuing its commitments to inclusivity following the sit-in and announced that the building will reopen Monday.
"Though we have disagreed about the specifics of their demands and their choice of means, I respect their underlying passion for making Duke and the world a better place," Brodhead said of the students in a statement to The Chronicle. "The University renews our commitments toward advancing the causes of fairness and inclusion across this community, including our workers. I now look forward to our coming together in this important cause."
The students’ exit came two days after they modified their original list of demands and issued two conditions for them to leave the building. The first was that Duke hire “competent, outside employment counsel” approved by Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity to annually investigate Parking and Transportation Services, the Duke University Police Department and the Office of Institutional Equity. They also demanded the University hire an independent consultant to conduct annual investigations of working conditions.
The second was that the University raise its minimum wage for workers to $12.53 per hour—Durham’s living wage according to the Durham Living Wage Campaign—by the end of this year and $15 per hour by July 4, 2019.
After the students issued their two preconditions to leaving the building, Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, noted that administrators would no longer negotiate with sit-in students. Earlier Wednesday, Brodhead sent an email to the Duke community announcing a committee that would be charged with reviewing Duke’s grievance and complaint procedures and initiating processes to raise the Duke minimum wage above $12 per hour.
“We offered to negotiate if they left the building,” Schoenfeld wrote in an email Wednesday. “That didn’t happen, so we're not negotiating and we’re done with demands."
Following the sit-in students’ exit, they joined their supporters outside—many of whom had been tenting outside Allen since Sunday—and marched up and down Chapel Drive.
Danielle Purifoy, a Ph.D. student in environmental policy and one of the protest organizers, noted that the tents outside of the Allen Building will remain.
Another organizer, sophomore Mohamad Chamas, noted that students exited the building so that negotiations with administrators could move forward.
“The ball is in their court now,” Chamas said. “We said we want to negotiate, and we’ll see what happens. Tomorrow, the Durham community is going to come out to show support for all the work we’ve done.”
Rachel Chason contributed reporting. This story was updated at 6:40 p.m. and 6:55 p.m. to incorporate additional student quotes. Check back for updates on this developing story.
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