People's State of the University: How student protesters' demands have changed over the years

<p>Wordcloud of the demands made by the People's State of the University.</p>

Wordcloud of the demands made by the People's State of the University.

Interact with the demands issued by students two weeks ago by hovering over the highlighted words:

Key: Demands of Black Voices (November 2015) Demands of Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity (Allen Building protestors—April 2016) Demands of Both
1. Implement $15 per hour DSWS advocated for wages to increase incrementally to $15 per hour by July 2019. for all Duke employees (including undergraduate workers,
graduate workers contracted workers,DSWS noted graduate workers and contracted workers while Black Voices only mentioned contracted workers. and all other laborers on campus not benefiting from current wage increases).

2. Make Board of Trustees meetings open and transparent While DSWS and Black Voices didn't explicitly mention the Board of Trustees, they did demand more transparency in the way the University makes decisions. to the entire Duke community.

3. Guarantee need-blind admissions for international students and
loan-free financial aid Black Voices demanded that all "federal, state, and university loans" be eliminated and replaced with grants. for all recipients.

4. Commit to increasing on-campus financial resources—like grants for necessary educational materials—for all first generation and 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 [Counseling and Psychological Services] Black Voices also focused on CAPS, demanding more cultural and racial diversity of CAPS staff. and the Duke Women's Center funding for additional trauma trained counselors and psychologists.

9. Create and enforce a standardized set of consequences for acts of
hate and bias Hate and bias issues were the central focus of the Demands of Black Voices. on campus.

10. Mandate training for all staff and administration Black Voices demanded bias and diversity training for all staff. (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 Black Africanist in the African and African American Studies Department by Spring 2019; hire at least one Black faculty in the Nicholas School for the Environment by Spring 2019; hire at least one indigenous faculty member by Spring 2019, hire at least two Latinx faculty by Spring 2019; Black Voices demanded representation of women and professors of color in regular ranked and tenured faculty positions equal to their representation in the student population by 2020. 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 on the initial application, including those in the Duke University Health System and undergraduate student applications.
Interactive by Likhitha Butchireddygari

In 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., protesters had four demands for then-President Douglas Knight—seeing that a "$1.60 minimum wage becomes a top economic priority for the University," establishing a commission to make recommendations on collective bargaining and union recognition, signing a newspaper advertisement supporting racial justice and resigning his membership in the segregated Hope Valley Country Club.

Just over a week ago, undergraduates—affiliated under the "People's State of the University"—rushed the stage at an alumni event when President Vincent Price was speaking. The University considered pursuing student conduct cases but decided not to punish the students, and about 60 faculty signed a letter saying that they didn't support consequences for the students.

"A remarkable similarity exists between the demands of the Vigil Class of 1968, the demands made by black students the next year and the demands made by student protesters every few years since then, including in 2016 and 2018," the letter reads. 

In 2016, students who were a part of Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity (DSWS) took over the Allen Building after The Chronicle published articles about Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III hitting a black parking attendant and complaints of racial discrimination in the Parking and Transportation Services department. They issued a list of seven demands.

During the Fall semester before the Allen Building occupation, another group of students released "Demands of Black Voices" after a Black Lives Matter poster was vandalized with a racial slur. Those students issued multiple demands under 10 categories.

The biggest similarity across these four sets of student demands is the focus on wages for workers. From $1.60 in 1968 to $15 in 2018, students throughout Duke history have advocated for better wages for workers. What sets apart the latest set of demands is the emphasis on implementing the $15 per hour wage for a broader group of workers, including undergraduate and graduate workers.

In August 2017, Price announced that the University would be increasing its minimum wage to $15 by 2019 but only for employees and contract workers.

Junior Sydney Roberts, an organizer in the latest protest and in the Allen Building occupation, said demanding better wages is a specific, "material ask" with direct benefits to workers. Although demands to fix systemic issues are important, she said, they also take more time.

"I assume it will be a part of labor at Duke—of wanting something that's material, more immediate than other things, easy to articulate and distribute information on," said Roberts, who is also co-chair of The Chronicle's independent Editorial Board.

The theme of transparency also shows up in the demands of students over the past few years. In 2015, "Black Voices" wanted transparency in the hiring process of professors and the work of the Task Force on Bias and Hate. In 2016, DSWS sought transparency in a review of Duke’s employment standards for sub-contracted workers and the hiring process of administrators. 

Specifically this iteration of demands asks for open Board of Trustees meetings, which have been closed for a decade. Roberts said that students who advocate for issues get frustrated in general by the lack of transparency.

What's completely different

There are a few demands that have not previously appeared in any form of recent student demands, such as eliminating "medically unnecessary surgery on intersex infants in Duke Health System" or "banning the box," a hiring practice that requires applicants to disclose their criminal-legal histories when applying for jobs. Roberts said that these demands were included because they were harder to advocate for individually and harder to build coalitions around.

"'It's hard to take up these single issues as a group," she noted. "Like how do you organize around ban the box if the people it affects the most are people who are applying to work at Duke? There just isn't a body that's able to take that on, and that's probably partially why it's just not as actively talked about among students like wages would be."

In the past, demands were issued in reaction to an event on campus or nationally, Roberts added. This time, however, there isn't a specific event that caused the protest.

"People's State of the University was very much organized around a vision of what could happen if we put all our energy and all of our bodies and all of our listservs together into one larger umbrella organization and addressed separate issues that we were all concerned about rather than it being reactive to an example of harm on campus," she said.

Roberts also noted that the demands were really fleshed out because many of the protest organizers have been working on those issues for their entire time at Duke. She highlighted the point about a standardized set of consequences for hate and bias incidents as an example, saying that only people who have knowledge of hate and bias issues understand that there isn't a standardized set of consequences for those incidents across the University.

Likhitha Butchireddygari

Follow Likhitha on Twitter

Class of 2019

Editor-in-chief 2017-18, 

Local and national news department head 2016-17

Born in Hyderabad, India, Likhitha Butchireddygari moved to Baltimore at a young age. She is pursuing a Program II major entitled "Digital Democracy and Data" about the future of the American democracy.


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