Q&A: 2 students in Allen Building sit-in discuss ongoing talks with administrators, plan moving forward

The Chronicle spoke with Lara Haft and Cindy Li Sunday afternoon

<p>Nine students initiated the Allen Building sit-in Friday afternoon and could be asked to leave Sunday.</p>

Nine students initiated the Allen Building sit-in Friday afternoon and could be asked to leave Sunday.

With the Allen Building sit-in continuing into Sunday evening, The Chronicle’s Gautam Hathi spoke with two of the nine students inside—junior Lara Haft and sophomore Cindy Li–about their ongoing discussions with administrators and the status of their demands. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: Where are you currently at in your discussion with administrators?

Cindy Li: We’re refusing to negotiate demands until we’re granted full amnesty.

There’s been plenty of conversation and plenty of ‘listening,’ but communication hasn’t been happening. The responses we got on the sheet of paper yesterday weren’t actually a real response—it had nothing to do with the things we talked about in the meeting with Dean [Steve] Nowicki.

TC: What are things like in the Allen Building?

Lara Haft: We’re not even allowed to go into the first floor of the building at this time. We’re pretty much sequestered into the second floor. We’re going to have people bring food, although it’s not really clear what the deal is with that. They’re able to hand things to the security guard, who is able to hand things to us, but nobody is allowed to visit. We had officials come to visit and a bunch of faculty come who all wanted to see us, check on us, check on our safety. They all wanted to come and visit with us and they were denied access.

What does that mean if they’re turning away our faculty members? That means they’re also turning away our counsel. When we call lawyers at the [American Civil Liberties Union], when we call lawyers at home, we’re not allowed to have lawyers in here.

CL: Anyone that’s giving us advice is not allowed to be in this building, and yet we’re going to be disciplined for being in this building. We’re under a high state of surveillance with a high level of policing. We aren’t able to negotiate under these circumstances where we’re being threatened to be thrown out of school.

Duke’s internal polices, its systems of self-regulation are not working the way they should be. They’re not serving to protect the people they were meant to protect. We have a deep distrust of the way this University is policing itself.

We’re in a position where the University’s internal processes can harm black and brown workers and have served to protect people like Tallman Trask. The people who we are protesting and the people who are policing us are the same people.

TC: Have you been told what the timeline is for disciplinary action against you?

LH: They have told us that there is no timeline, but they have told us an order of things. It’s going to be a warning, a citation, another warning and they’re going to be move into the Duke disciplinary process. There are two things in that, both taking us to Student Conduct and a judicial board, and then after that another warning and possibly arrest.

That could all be tonight, before tomorrow morning, but it also could be over a couple of days. I know there are folks in here saying that we’re planning to wait them out and that we’re demanding amnesty.

TC: Are you planning to stay until you’re arrested?

LH: I can telI you that for me personally, I’m planning to take that citation and I’m planning to go through the conduct board. They don’t scare me. They’re going to have to come in and physically arrest me. I can only speak for myself, and I know folks in here vary a little bit.

I know that’ll be a press nightmare and Dean Sue is probably not looking to arrest us, but that’ll be a few days down the road.

What we really need is for everyone on campus to come out in full force to support us, and especially full support for us to get amnesty, because that’ll really help us negotiating for the workers and trying to get all the demands met.

We want to reiterate that when Tallman Trask committed a felony hit-and-run, President Brodhead and the rest of the administration responded by having him writing a two-sentence apology note. What does it mean for us to be talking about workers’ rights, using our rights to civil disobedience and peaceful protest, and then being threatened to be brought to court? We’re being threatened with being suspended or expelled in that disciplinary process. What does that mean for the University to have that huge difference?

TC: Do you see any evidence of administrators working towards a 'mutually agreeable solution?'

LH: No. We haven’t seen that.

It’s not in Duke’s interest to arrest us and it’s not in Duke’s interest to have us in here for several months. There are thousands of supporters. All of Durham is on our side and the whole country will be on our side. We don’t anticipate going anywhere.

They’re looking for middle ground, and I think they need middle ground negotiating our demands, but we’re not negotiating the demands and we’ll be here.

TC: Administrators have said that they can’t take any action against Trask since there is ongoing civil litigation. Has this been brought up and have you taken this into account?

LH: They have brought that up, but we’re not calling for [the administration] to dismiss Trask, Kyle Cavanaugh and Carl DePinto with no investigation whatsoever. We’re calling for them to do their jobs and do an actual investigation like they should have the first time. If they take two months, we’ll be in their office for two months, so we hope they’ll do that faster so that we can go back to our classes and go back to hanging out with our loved ones and go take a shower because we smell bad. They should do their jobs and do them quickly.

TC: Do you have any common ground with administrators?

LH: One of the things we were talking about with the administration when President Brodhead was here was that he said, 'We wanted to have a conversation and talk about common ground.’ And so one of the things we talked about is that there is common ground. They don’t want to arrest us and we don’t want to get arrested. They don’t want to expel us and we don’t want to get expelled. They don’t want to suspend us and we don’t want to be suspended.'

They don’t want this to become a press thing. They don’t want this blowing up and going to national media. They don’t want this to last two months, and they don’t want this to become a Duke lacrosse scandal. They want to minimize this, they don’t want us to be here during Blue Devil Days next week. And actually all of us want the same thing. We want to go home tomorrow.

But we told them that where we don’t agree is that we are not negotiating until we have amnesty, and we want all seven demands met. So that is not common ground since they want us to leave with meeting none of the demands and we want all of the demands. But the common ground is that they want us out, and we ultimately think that common interest is what will prevail.

We have thousands of people supporting us. Within the first six hours we raised $1,000 of support, we have prominent activists retweeting us on Twitter. You can block the doors on Allen, but you cannot block the doors on this movement, and we are going to win. We’ve already won.

TC: If they do remove you today, will you be back tomorrow?

LH: I don’t think they’re going to physically remove us tonight. They would have to escalate and do all the things they’ve said. They would have to give us a citation, take us to the conduct board of Duke and physically arrest us all tonight. Maybe they’ll do that all in one night, but I’m not sure that they will.

Once they’ve arrested us, I think we’d have to discuss as a collective with workers and the other stakeholders here. As we mentioned to Dean Sue [Wasiolek], every time we make a decision we have our phones out and we’re on GroupMe. We’re not only discussing among all nine of us, but we’re also messaging with workers. Students and Workers in Solidarity is a coalition group that was formed with students, faculty and staff and that’s why faculty are coming to meet with us. That’s why there are staff who are speaking on our behalf.

If this ends before the demands are met, we go back to the drawing board, we talk to all our stakeholders and all our loved ones as a community, and we keep going. We will not stop, and we will not be defeated.


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