Student protests have become ubiquitous at many university campuses across the country — which makes this academic year akin to sit-ins of the 1960s.
Instead of protesting government action, eight students at Duke University have been occupying a university administration building since April 2 with a list a demands for changes in the Duke administration that range from economic to racial justice for a university employee.
The protest was incited after Duke’s student newspaper published an article about a university parking attendant accusing Tallman Trask, the university’s executive vice president, of striking her with his car and using a racial epithet.
Considering the accident with Trask and the university parking attendant occurred in August 2014, we the Editorial Board wonder if the Duke student protesters are really fighting to avenge a university employee or are using her situation as a reason to demand change.
The parking attendant Shelvia Underwood received a handwritten apology note weeks after filing a report with the Duke University Police Department. While it is unclear whether or not the Duke student protesters are in contact with Underwood, the protesters feel as though a handwritten apology is not enough.
We are sympathetic to the Duke protesters’ concerns, but we believe Duke students shouldn’t be using a nearly two-year-old incident to justify and incite their already justifiable demands.
Among the list of demands for change is a demand for “the immediate termination” of Trask, the man who hit Underwood and two other university officials, Kyle Cavanaugh and Carl DePinto.
DePinto is the director of parking and transportation services for the university and Cavanaugh oversees this department through his job as vice president of administration.
Along with their demands to have university officials terminated, the protesters also demand an external investigation be conducted in regard to the Trask and Underwood accident. After that, the protester’s demands turn away from the Underwood incident and focus on economic concerns, which outnumber the demands related to Underwood.
The protesters demand a revision of employment guidelines for subcontracted campus workers, more transparency in administrative recruitment and a $15 minimum wage for all employees on campus, as reported by Inside Higher Ed.
“One thing that’s been pretty clear in this entire process is the influence of money,” Alice Reed, a Duke sophomore who has been organizing the protests and occupation of the administration building, told InsideHigherEd.com. ”I think that’s a lot of the reason Duke students have been frustrated. They see Trask as one of our highest-paid administrators, and because he has that much money and is so high-powered in the university, he’s been able to get away with a lot.”
While Trask does not deny the accident, he does deny using a racial slur during the incident.
And although he may get the benefit of the doubt due to his position and tax bracket, the money is really the issue for the Duke protesters.