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An open letter to Duke administrators

Dear President Brodhead, Dean Wasiolek, Dr. Moneta and Provost Kornbluth,

We write in the spirit of justice and transparency to express our deep concern with the administration’s initiation of student misconduct investigations against seven of the nine representatives of Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity who held a sit-in at the Allen Building from April 1-8. We condemn any disciplinary action taken against them, as it is in direct violation of the unconditional amnesty agreement reached between the students and administrators on April 3. Subsequent attempts to impose conditions on the sit-in on April 6—including prohibiting use of the balcony in the Allen Building and of bathrooms located outside the administrative office suite—were out of compliance with the amnesty agreement and should not be used as a basis to pursue sanctions against the students.

It is our understanding that administrators initiated misconduct proceedings with the Office of Student Conduct upon receiving an email from a Duke student alleging that s/he/they observed several of the DSWS students on the Allen Building balcony at a rally on Wednesday, April 6. While none will deny that the students used the balcony on that date, their use was in full compliance of the April 3 amnesty agreement. In that agreement, the nine students were told by Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek that their amnesty for the sit-in was unconditional, and that they would not face consequences for their actions (which included use of the balcony) so long as they did not destroy any property. Following that agreement, in an April 4 email to the Duke community, the administration stated:

"In order to facilitate productive dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution, the nine students will not be subject to student conduct sanctions and legal penalties for their actions. In addition, it is university policy to prohibit retaliation against students, faculty and staff who express their views."

By closing the Allen Building for nearly a week, the administration placed its own agenda over the health and well-being of the students and foreclosed the possibility of productive, interpersonal dialogue between the students and the larger Duke community. Because the students were not permitted to leave the building during the sit-in, the balcony was the only place where they could access fresh air and the only way they could make in-person connections with the rest of our community. Despite signs of emotional and spiritual distress, not even clergy were allowed to visit the students in the building.

The administration also prioritized controlling the physical visibility of the students over the progression of negotiations for worker’ rights. The Allen Building balcony made the DSWS political campaign for anti-racism and workers’ rights highly visible, as demonstrated by the globally distributed images of the students posed on the balcony, fists up in solidarity with the black and brown workers that the administration claims to support. Visibility is power. But rather than use that opportunity to move publicly towards greater protections for workers, the Duke administration attempted to take power away from DSWS and render the campaign invisible by retroactively prohibiting access to the balcony, in direct violation of the amnesty agreement.

The administration’s blatant retraction of amnesty further demonstrates the climate of profound distrust, retaliation and silence that it has fostered in the Duke community. This same climate also plagues Duke workers, who must support DSWS anonymously out of genuine fear of losing their jobs and their ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Further, the structure of the initial student misconduct investigation, spearheaded by Associate Dean of Students Stephen Bryan, only exacerbates our lack of confidence by placing the students in a similar situation as a defendant without an attorney. No student should have to fight for third party witnesses or advisors in any misconduct investigation or proceeding. To suggest that students can best advance justice on their own behalf through one-on-one meetings with top administrators is a shameful abuse of power.

We are dismayed by the lack of good faith with which the administration managed the sit-in and by the retaliatory actions it has now initiated against DSWS student representatives, in direct violation of its own agreement and its own written policies. For the sake of restoring faith in the institution and setting an example of true justice for our community, we ask that the administration end these spurious student investigations and resume discussions with DSWS to advance workers’ rights at Duke University.

Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity

Danielle Purifoy, Doctoral Student, Environmental Policy/AAAS

Anastasia Kārkliņa, Trinity ‘14, Doctoral Student, Literature/AAAS

Shahrazad A. Shareef, Doctoral Student, Literature

Felicia Arriaga, Doctoral Candidate, Sociology

Bennett Carpenter, Doctoral Candidate, Literature

Colleen Sharp, Trinity ‘18

Alice Reed, Trinity ‘18

José Romero, Doctoral Student, Cultural Anthropology

Dustin Hadfield, Trinity ‘17

Stanley Yuan, Pratt ‘16

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