A group of organized students disrupted President Vincent Price’s address to alumni Saturday, calling for institutional change in labor practices and student support, among other demands.
Looking back to the legacy of the 1968 Silent Vigil, approximately 25 undergraduates—who identified themselves as being from diverse backgrounds—took the stage in Page Auditorium as Price was about to accept class gifts.
“President Price get off the stage,” the group chanted, while rushing the stage with signs and a megaphone. Once they gathered onstage, the group continued chanting “Whose University? Our University.”
Junior Trey Walk took the megaphone first, connecting the protest back to the Vigil.
“These events would later be summarized as a turning point for Duke, but 50 years later so much has still remained the same,” Walk said. “We are still here.”
Walk continued, noting that task forces and other measures are still being used to pacify students.
After he passed off the megaphone, Price attempted to interject before relenting. Many in the crowd began shouting.
Amid the shouting, the protesters continued listing their demands—ranging from guaranteeing need-blind admissions for international students and loan-free financial aid to opening Board of Trustees meetings to the public and banning medically unnecessary surgery for intersex newborns at Duke Hospital.
Many alumni did not respond positively, booing to drown out the student’s explanation of their demands, some standing up to turn their backs to the stage. Among the comments heard from alums in the audience “get off the stage”, “not the time or place” and “a**holes.”
After approximately 10 minutes, Sterly Wilder, Trinity ’83 and associate vice president for alumni affairs, initially announced that the talk would be canceled. Five minutes later, the students left to further address their demands in front of the Chapel.
Before they got onstage, student protesters reported receiving fliers titled "Got something to say? Here's how to get your message heard..." from Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek, which outlined Duke's policies on protesting.
One bullet point states: "Disruptive picketing, protesting or demonstration on Duke University property or at any place in use for an authorized university purpose is prohibited."
The Page Auditorium talk eventually continued, with alumni presenting class gifts followed by an address from the President. In the question and answer session, one alumnus asked Price about his thoughts on the protest.
Price said he would review the demands and listen to the students, but noted that he thought they might have a “misunderstanding” about the minimum wage issue. He explained that Duke has committed to raising its wage for employees and contract workers.
“The challenge now in a culture that confuses shouting back and forth with conversation, we just have to find vehicles to have honest discussion and I’m happy to take up any of the issues which the students raise," he said. "I disagree deeply that this was an appropriate way to handle these issues."
Students also protested in April 2016 for some of the same causes during the week-long Allen Building sit-in, including raising minimum wage to $15/hour. The Allen Building sit-in was originally sparked by allegations that executive vice-president Tallman Trask hit a parking employee with his car and called her a racial slur. It called for Trask’s firing, but also focused on other concerns regarding labor at the University.
Outside Page Auditorium, the group of student gathered in front of the Chapel to further explain their demands. Approximately 50 onlookers surrounded them to watch.
Sophomore Gino Nuzzolillo characterized the demands as a living document that is subject to change over time.
“The future we imagine is one free of oppression, suffering and exploitation,” Nuzzolillo said. Because there are many issues that exist on this campus and the world beyond, the issues and demands listed here are not comprehensive and only scratch the surface of the work we have yet to do.”
The students later offered onlookers the opportunity to speak. One alumna from the Class of 1993 expressed support for the students’ efforts.
“I wasn’t very excited to be in that presidential meeting but boy was I excited when I found up what you guys were up to,” she said. “Thanks for making the reunion for me and for being the future of what’s right about the University and the country in general.”
Students’ demands are included below.
We demand that Duke:
1. Implement $15/hr pay for all Duke employees (including undergraduate workers, graduate workers, contracted workers, and all other laborers on campus not benefiting from current wage increases).
2. Make Board of Trustee meetings open and transparent to the entire Duke community.
3. Guarantee need-blind admissions for international students and loan-free financial aid.
4. Commit to increase on-campus financial resources—like grants for necessary educational materials—for all first generation & low-income students.
5. Rename the Carr Building on East Campus.
6. Create a community space for students with disabilities by Spring 2020.
7. Ban medically unnecessary surgery on intersex infants in Duke Health System.
8. Increase CAPS and the Duke Women's Center funding for trauma trained counselors and psychologists.
9. Create and enforce a standardized set of consequences for acts of hate and bias on campus.
10. Mandate training for all staff and administration (including CAPS counselors) to better serve the needs of undocumented students on campus. Additionally, hire a staff member who is specifically designated to support these students.
11. Hire at least one (1) Black Africanist in the African and African American Studies Department by Spring 2019; hire at least one (1) Black faculty in the Nicholas School for the Environment by Spring 2019; hire at least one (1) indigenous faculty member by Spring 2019, hire at least two Latinx faculty by Spring 2019; continue its commitment to its Asian American Studies Program, as has been demanded by and promised since the early 2000s to Asian and Asian American students on campus; and hire at least one trans-feminine identifying faculty member by Spring 2019.
12. Ban the box: Eliminate the unjust hiring practice of requiring applicants to disclose their criminal-legal histories for all Duke University positions, including those in the Duke University Health System and undergraduate student applications.
Check back for updates to this developing story.
Editor's Note: The story was updated to reflect that student received the fliers before they took the stage.
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Adam Beyer is a senior public policy major and is The Chronicle's Digital Strategy Team director.