Student sit-in at Duke University enters second week

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — As the student sit-in at Duke University enters its second week, the protesters and administration seem to be trying to settle the issues that divide them even though they’re not talking face-to-face.

Nine students took over the reception area outside the office of school President Richard Brodhead on April 1. Since then, Duke has relocated classes from Allen Building and banned visitors while allowing employees to come and go through one door. Several days into the sit-in, administrators said they won’t negotiate until the students leave.

Eight of the students remained Friday — one left for a poetry competition — but negotiations of a sort have continued. Through news releases and social media posts, students have minimized their demands, and Brodhead has offered to set up a steering committee to investigate some issues.

Supporters of the sit-in protesters also are camping outside Allen Building, although they have little contact with those inside. The school has banned the protesters from the building balcony, saying their amnesty from disciplinary action doesn’t extend to that area.

“We are seeing people stand up for workers’ rights who otherwise might not have been active,” said Anatasia Karklina, a doctoral candidate at Duke and spokeswoman for Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity. “And I think that is something very significant.”

Duke spokesman Michael Schoenfeld said Friday that the protest has been a disruption on campus. “At the same time, there is no question that it has catalyzed discussion on campus about issues related to employment, respect, fairness and inclusion for all members of the Duke community,” he said.

Students said earlier this week they now want a commitment by Duke to have an independent investigation of its labor practices; a commitment to raise the minimum wage for all campus workers to $12.53 per hour by the end of the year and to $15 an hour by the end of 2019; and commitment by Duke to negotiate the remaining demands with students and workers in coming weeks.

Those other demands include the firing of three administrators, including executive vice president Tallman Trask III. Trask, who was involved in a dispute with a contract parking attendant who says he used a racial slur, issued a public apology this week. The parking attendant, Shelvia Underwood, has sued Trask, who has denied using the slur.

The steering committee that Brodhead offered to establish would consider several issues, including hiring an independent expert to review the school’s grievance and complaint procedures and to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

The protesters rejected that offer.

“Steering committees are where good ideas go to die,” Karklina said.

The rejection shows that the protesters and their supporters “are recognizing that we have to ask for something more specific if we are to change the realities of black and brown workers at Duke,” she said.

Duke students aren’t alone in using sit-ins to advocate for a cause. About 80 students staged a sit-in Thursday night at the administration building at Appalachian State to protest North Carolina’s new transgender law, WSOC-TV reported.

Student protesters have held a sit-in at the administration of the University of California-Davis since March 11, seeking the resignation of Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Shorter sit-ins on issues such as rape on campus; prohibiting campuses from asking if job applicants have a prison record; and school investments have occurred recently at Howard, New York and Ohio State universities.


Martha Waggoner can be reached at Her work can be found at

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