Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition

On Oct. 24th, I accompanied my roommate to the West Mall, where we witnessed members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition attempting to gain signatures for a petition urging the University Co-op to stop accepting products made with sweatshop labor and switch to the Alta Gracia brand. My roommate, along with the members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition, wore nothing but underwear adorned with cardboard cutouts that read, “We’d rather go naked than wear sweatshop apparel.” Although their attire did garner a lot of attention, the disapproving head-shakes and judgmental eye shifts I noticed made me wonder: How practical is it to employ nudity to attract attention to a cause? Were potential petition signers turned off by the public exposure, or were people that wouldn’t have signed at all drawn in?

It’s impossible to fully answer these questions, because it is impossible to control for factors such as the demographics and views of the people walking through the West Mall on any given day. But in a world saturated with terrorist attacks and violent protests, using the nude (or half-nude) human body in a nonviolent manner in support of an honest cause should be among the least of our worries. Beyond tolerance, it should be respected as a successful example of victimless radicalism.

The protest’s reliance on the appeal of underwear wasn’t a spontaneous incident but one step in a series of planned efforts. Members and supporters were not reveling in getting naked to draw attention to themselves or to have a good time but to draw attention to their cause in a practical way.

And this isn’t the first time they’ve done it. Alonzo Mendoza, a UT senior and member of the coalition, commented, “We had previously done naked protesting as part of our campaign to have UT affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, and given its success in garnering attention and support from the University’s community, we figured that we would get even more attention this time around since we’ve been building up from the momentum of last semester’s successful campaign.”

Once UT affiliated with the Worker Rights Consortium in June, the coalition pushed the Co-op to invest in the Alta Gracia brand, which produces college apparel while paying its workers a living wage and has an open-door policy for inspectors from the Worker Rights Consortium. Jessica Alvarenga, a junior and coalition member, said that the second West Mall venture was an “educational yet fun awareness event that proved effective as [they] received almost 900 signatures.” After seeing that the petition received a significant number of signatures — proof that there is student demand for products provided through fair-labor means — the Co-op invested $35,000 in Alta Gracia (although this is far short of the $250,000 the coalition called for).

The gradual accomplishments of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition demonstrate the effectiveness of persistent and dedicated activism. You don’t have to agree with their cause to see that their relatively radical approaches, including two nude awareness events and a sit-in in UT President William Powers Jr.’s office that resulted in arrests, have captured the attention of students and elicited action from the Co-op.

There are other causes for which nudity is deeply meaningful and intrinsic to the message, such as the SlutWalk marches that occur annually around the world. SlutWalk participants proclaim that a woman’s appearance is not an excuse for rape. To illustrate this point, scantily-clad women march with signs bearing slogans such as, “Don’t tell me what to wear, tell men not to rape.”

Whether organizations use nudity to make a point or purely to attract attention to their causes, the technique gets results. Change cannot always be effected with moderation, and although some find the nudity inappropriate, the shock factor bluntly exposes an important issue and increases interest in it. After all, in a world full of unrelenting injustice, there is no time for passive, half-assed advocacy.

Manescu is a journalism and international relations and global studies junior.

Bianca Hinz-Foley, Louchin Chi, and Jessica Alvarenga represented UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition in a meeting with the University Co-Op Monday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

The University Co-op president said he will invest in merchandise from a factory that the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition has advocated for because it provides fair working conditions, but the investment is much less than the coalition asked for.

The Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition asked George Mitchell, president and CEO of the University Co-operative Society, to purchase $250,000 in licensed UT merchandise from Knights Apparel’s Alta Gracia, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic. Mitchell said the Co-op will commit to a $15,500 order from Alta Gracia, which would have a retail value of $35,000.

Jessica Alvarenga, coalition member and geography junior, said the coalition endorses this supplier because it pays its workers a living wage and it has an open-door policy for inspectors from the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions in factories.

“Students will always support ethical apparel because our motto is ‘transforming lives for the betterment of society,’ and that is exactly what would happen here,” Alvaraenga said.

Eighteen United Students Against Sweatshops members were arrested last spring for participating in a sit-in at University President William Powers Jr.’s office as part of an effort to get the University to join the WRC.

In an interview with The Daily Texan last week, Jessica Alvarenga said the organization will take similar action if necessary to ensure that its demands are met on this issue.

Mitchell said committing $250,000 without testing the product is a business gamble that will put employee jobs at risk if the product does not sell. He said the sales are tied to the success of the football team and have declined in the last three years.

Louchin Chi, coalition member and government sophomore, said from the business side, he understands testing a product is responsible and appreciates the offer, but the coalition will continue to ask for the Co-op to purchase more from Alta Gracia.

“Since we trust the humanity behind the product we would try to provide your demand,” Chi said. ”And we will campaign for money regardless.”
Bianca Hinz-Foley, coalition member and Plan II sophomore, said the proposed order offer is not sufficient to provide a long-term partnership between the Co-op and Alta Gracia. She said the merchandise supplied by the Co-op’s commitment would not be enough to satisfy the demand.

“$35,000 for a pilot is set-up for failure,” Hinz-Foley said.

She said the people who signed a petition for the Co-op to spend $250,000 with Alta Gracia are proof of the demand.

“These are consumers that are interested in buying one particular type of clothing and that is one they can wear with pride — and that is ethical clothes,” Hinz-Foley said.

Mitchell will meet with the coalition again Friday to discuss further action.

Printed on Tuesday, October 30, 2012 as: Co-op invests in humane apparel supplier

Guest speaker from the Worker’s Defense Project Luis Rodriguez listens to remarks during Teach-In: Labor, Migration and the Struggle for Dignity in the Workplace hosted by Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition Wednesday night.

Photo Credit: Yaguang Zhu | Daily Texan Staff

Months after the University announced plans to join the Worker Rights Consortium, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition shows no signs of slowing down in its fight for fair working conditions for producers of UT apparel.

The student group held a “teach-in” Wednesday evening where they discussed how students can impact labor conditions in the Austin community and around the world. The group also announced plans to launch a campaign focused on the University Co-Op.

Sydney Dwoskin, international relations and global studies junior and member of the coalition, said UT’s plan to join the Worker Rights Consortium is an essential first step in the struggle to secure labor rights for those making UT apparel. She said now that UT plans to join, the focus needs to shift to the specific factories UT gets apparel from. She cited a particular factory in the Dominican Republic, called Alta Gracia, as a model for apparel factories in the developing world, and said the group plans to ask the Co-op to buy some of its UT apparel from the factory.

“We can’t just stop at the Worker Rights Consortium because that doesn’t guarantee that people are getting paid a living wage, getting health benefits and having enough money to feed their kids,” Dwoskin said. “We want to take it a step further. We want to get Alta Gracia in our bookstore. We want to buy clothes from our bookstore and know that they are being made by people that are getting paid like that and getting treated like that.”

The teach-in included a Skype conference with Alta Gracia workers in the Dominican Republic.

In June, the coalition scored a victory when UT President William Powers Jr. announced that UT would sign on to the Worker Rights Consortium, a human rights monitoring group that will oversee the production of UT apparel abroad. The coalition had spent years advocating the cause. In April, 18 Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition members were arrested for trespassing after holding a sit-in in Powers’ office.

Geography and the environment lecturer Richard Heyman, who participated in the teach-in, said a unified force at home and abroad is necessary to advance substantive change in the rights of workers.

“This event tonight is a great example of the necessary solidarity among workers in the global south, transnational immigrants and native workers in the global north,” Heyman said.

Heyman also said workers’ rights here in the United States remain an important issue.

“We don’t often use the phrase ‘sweatshops’ to describe construction workers and house cleaners, but in effect those sectors suffer the same poor pay, degrading treatment and dangerous conditions of factory workers in the global south,” Heyman said.

Holding up a UT T-shirt, geography junior Jessica Alvarenga said students need to see beyond the UT logo.

“What do you see when you see this shirt?” Alvarenga asked. “Do you see the worker? Do you see the sweat? Do you see the harassment that a worker faces everyday just to produce this shirt?”

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Sweatshop coalition eyes radical changes

Students Against Sweatshops members Adrian Orozco, Lucian Villasenor, Christina Noriega and Yajaira Fraga await trial at the Blackwell-Thurman Criminal Justice Center Friday Morning.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

Seventeen members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition went before a Travis County judge Friday for criminal trespass, and each member took a plea deal to have the charges reduced and eventually removed from their record.

The members were charged in April after holding a sit-in in UT President William Powers Jr.’s office with the goal of convincing UT to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions of factory workers internationally. UT joined the consortium in July. The 17 members had to choose Friday between two plea options the County Attorney offered this summer.

Virginia Raymond, attorney for 16 of the charged students, said 15 chose plea option one, which immediately dismissed the charges and forced the students to sign an admission of guilt to a class B misdemeanor criminal trespass charge. Those students will now have to complete 20 hours of community service and not be arrested for anything above a class C traffic ticket misdemeanor during a subsequent six-month period. If successful in meeting those conditions, the students can then apply for expungement of the charge.

Raymond said two students chose plea option two, which deferred the charge to a class C misdemeanor of failure to obey a lawful order. The students choosing this option had to pay $205.10 in fines and court costs. They also must not be arrested for the next three months. If successful in meeting those conditions, the students can apply for expungement of the charge following the three-month period.

If the students fail to meet the terms of their respective pleas, the county can re-file the case and pursue the original criminal trespass charges. In this case, criminal trespass is considered a class B misdemeanor, which comes with a maximum punishment of 180 days in jail, a $2,000 fine and a permanent criminal record.

Raymond said for logistical reasons, one of the students who was arrested was not able to attend court Friday, but is planning on choosing plea option one.

Raymond said she saw the trial as only a minor point in the larger effort UT has made to better protect the rights of workers who make their apparel.

“There is no big drama or story in these minor legal maneuvers,” she said.  “The criminal charges are an unpleasant but insignificant aspect of the big picture. The big, wonderful story is that UT-Austin is part of the Worker Rights Consortium.”

Plan II sophomore Bianca Hinz-Foley said student efforts to convince UT’s administration to join the Worker Rights Consortium began in 1999. They have consisted of dozens of efforts and protests, including dressing up in only cardboard, lying out in front of the tower and picketing in front of the University Co-op.

Lucy Griswold, coalition spokesperson and arrested student, said she took plea option one because there were no fines involved, something that was a deciding factor for many of the coalition’s members.

Jessica Villarreal, geography senior and arrested student, said she chose plea option two because it provided for a faster expungement of the charges and required no community service.

“It was more cut and dry,” she said.

Faculty representatives of the coalition submitted a petition to Powers Wednesday with more than 400 student signatures asking him to drop the charges against the students. Powers took no action.

Villarreal said she is disappointed in Powers’ decision not to advocate on the student’s behalf before the trial, but she can see why the University took the situation seriously.

“I can understand it from the administration’s point,” she said. “They want to maintain their point of power. They don’t want to show students, ‘If you all want to protest and occupy our office, we are going to just slap you on the wrist and call it a day.’”

Griswold said this marks an end to the coalition’s involvement with the Worker Rights Consortium issue.

“We’re going to close the door basically with this Worker Rights Consortium issue and decide what we’re going to do next,” she said. “We want to get some new campaigns going, and getting the charges dropped won’t be a priority.”

Printed on Monday, September 17, 2012 as: Students take plea deal, University remains silent

Every Friday, we’ll hit the streets to ask students what they think. This week we stopped by the Co-op to gauge opinion on today’s court date for members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition. Eighteen student members of the coalition were arrested in April when they refused to leave UT President William Powers Jr.’s office after the end of the business day. They had occupied the office to protest UT’s refusal to join the Worker Rights Consortium, a labor rights group that guarantees humane working conditions in factories that manufacture apparel for UT. During the summer, UT acquiesced to the protesters’ demands and joined the Worker Rights Consortium, but the Travis County Attorney’s Office is still pressing criminal trespass charges against the protesters. We asked students whether or not UT should remain silent on the issue, or attempt to convince the county attorney to drop the charges against the students.

“UT should take no action. If the students knew they trespassed, and even if they have already come to an agreement, they still have to pay for what they have done.”
Celeny Benitez, electrical engineering freshman from Houston.

“Charges should be dropped because there’s no malicious intent or bad faith in what the protesters were doing, which would be a reason to charge them. Since it was peaceful and there was no harm done, UT should attempt to drop the charges. Even though they did break the law by staying in a building past certain hours, I don’t think it’s something they should be charged for.”
Rashi Agrawal, public relations senior from Houston.

“I think that even though there were laws that were broken and they shouldn’t have stayed past five, they didn’t revolt or turn to violent aggression. They went peacefully. If UT already gave in to their demands, they should probably drop the charges. This isn’t going to go anywhere. It doesn’t make any sense that UT would continue on when the fight is essentially already over because they got what they wanted and at the end of the day UT got them out of the president’s office.”
Maria Ponce, Latin American studies junior from San Antonio.

Communication studies professor Dana Cloud, English professor Snehal Shingavi and Coordinator for the Texas State Employee Union Jim Branson wait to deliver a petition in the lobby of President PowerÂ’s office Wednesday before noon. The petition, with over 400 signatures, calls for charges to be dismissed against Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition protestors who were arrested in April.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

President William Powers, Jr. got a surprise delivery Wednesday as representatives of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition brought a petition to his office with more than 400 signatures.

The petition demands that criminal trespassing charges brought against 18 members of the coalition during a peaceful sit-in at Powers’ office last spring be immediately dropped. Powers does not have the ability to drop the charges himself and has said the case is now in the hands of the County Attorney.

“It got turned over to the [County Attorney], and that is the County Attorney’s business,” Powers said.

However, the coalition members believe Powers could influence the County Attorney and ask for dismissal of the charges on their behalf.

Corby Holcomb, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney’s Office, said last week that the victim or entity in a criminal trespassing case normally has a say in the charging and sentencing decisions.

“Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input,” he said.

Holcomb declined to comment on the specific influence the University would have in this case, as it is currently ongoing.

The coalition members participated in the sit-in last spring to try and convince the University to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors the working conditions of factory employees internationally. Powers announced in July that UT would join the consortium to monitor conditions at some of the factories that manufacture UT apparel. The students will face trial on the charges Friday in Travis County Court, where they will have to either take one of two pleas offered to them or continue to fight the charges.

Government junior Lucy Griswold, who was arrested at the sit-in, said she believes the charges should be dropped because the sit-in was of a peaceful nature and held as a last resort effort.

“We were peacefully protesting, and this was after years of escalation in the campaign where we had used all of the democratic avenues offered on campus to have a dialogue with the University,” she said.

Griswold said if the University remains silent, it will also send a negative message to the rest of the campus community.

“We feel the charges should be dropped to reserve the right of protests on campus,” she said. “Essentially, this has always been about freedom of speech.”

Dana Cloud, associate professor of rhetoric and writing, said even if the charges are not dropped and the students stand trial Friday, the coalition will continue efforts to have the charges dismissed.

“We are not going to let this go down without a fight,” she said.

Printed on Thursday, September 13th, 2012 as: Petition requests Powers to drop case

18 UT students will go to court this Friday. Arrested in April for participating in anti-sweatshop protests, they face trespassing charges from the Travis County Attorney’s Office.

Police arrested members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition on April 18, after the protesters refused to end their sit-in at UT President William Powers Jr.’s office at 5 p.m., the time the building closed. Although the university complied with the protesters’ demand in July by agreeing to join the Worker Rights Consortium — a labor rights monitoring group that places stricter controls on working conditions than did UT’s previous affiliate — the charges against the students have not been dropped.

UT claims it has no control over whether the charges are dropped. Because UT did not file the charges, administrators cannot order them dismissed, but Corby Holby, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney, told The Daily Texan, “Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input.” Granted, the protestors took on the risk of criminal prosecution for trespassing when they occupied Powers’ office. But the university administration by its inaction in defense of the protesters now takes its own risk: the risk of setting a tone on campus that discourages non-violent protest and even exercise of free speech rights. Even if the administrators hadn’t ultimately agreed that the protesters had a point worth compromising on, they should nonetheless should now make clear to the UT community that on campus people have the right to express themselves if they don’t harm others in doing so.

The Travis County Attorney’s Office has offered the students two plea deals, neither includes jail time or expensive fines, but the protesters plan to contest the charges. “I think that it would be more meaningful and lasting for us to try to fight the charges,” government junior and Coalition spokeswoman Lucy Griswold said. “It will help preserve the right to protest on campus.”

According to Griswold, English professor Snehal Shingavi has been circulating a petition to get the charges dropped. He and other professors and community supporters are scheduled to present the petition to President Powers today in the hope that he will call for dismissal of the trespassing charges.

The university administration maintains that the charges are beyond its control and its inaction on the protesters’ behalf does not reflect a negative attitude about free speech rights. “The students in question were arrested and charged with trespassing, not for expressing their opinions,” said UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle.

However, the university administration sends at best a mixed message by not coming to the protesters’ defense. “The decision to join the Worker Rights Consortium...resulted from some very productive conversations with students,” Doolittle said. Yet one cannot help but wonder if the president’s office would have granted the students those meetings without the media attention garnered by their sit-in.

To the protesters, UT’s ultimate decision to join th Worker Rights Consortium represents a validation of the Coalition’s grievances and adequate reason to call for the charges’ dismissal. “President Powers has lauded the students he met with for their maturity and preparedness,” Griswold said, “and yet he is still maintaining the criminalization of those same students.”

Members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition are preparing to go to court next week for criminal charges filed against them by UT.

A group of 18 UT students was arrested last spring during a sit-in meant to force UT to join the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization that monitors working conditions of factory employees internationally. Although UT announced plans to join the consortium in July, the 18 students will appear in court Friday facing charges for criminal trespass, a class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and 180 days in jail.

They must, at that time, either take one of two plea options offered to them earlier this summer or continue to fight the charges against them.

According to Lucian Villasenor, Mexican-American studies senior and arrested student, the plea options offered are as follows:

The first plea would immediately dismiss the charge and force the students to sign an admission of guilt to a class B misdemeanor criminal trespass charge.

The case would remain dismissed as long as the students completed 20 hours of community service and did not get arrested for anything above a class C misdemeanor traffic ticket over a subsequent six-month period. If successful in meeting those conditions, the students could then apply for expungement of the charge, and if unsuccessful, the county could re-file the case and use the admission of guilt in court.

The second plea would defer the charge to a class C misdemeanor of failure to obey a lawful order. Within a three-month period, the students would have to pay a $1 fine and relevant court costs, complete 15 hours of community service and remain arrest-free. If successful in meeting those conditions, the students could apply for expungement of the charge following a two-year waiting period subsequent to the arrest-free three months.

The coalition wanted UT to join the Worker Rights Consortium because they felt the organization overseeing production of UT apparel in foreign countries, Fair Labor Association, wasn’t adequately monitoring working conditions. UT is currently part of both organizations.

In a statement released last month, UT spokeswoman Tara Doolittle said the University administration is not taking further action in this case because they feel it is simply out of their hands.

Doolittle said the students were arrested for trespassing, not for expressing their opinions.

“The legal process for the trespassing charges is out of the University’s hands and lies with the [Travis] County Attorney’s Office,” she said.

Corby Holcomb, assistant trial director for the Travis County Attorney’s Office, said while his office does have the final say in the matter with cases involving criminal trespassing, input from the victim or entity in the case is normally taken into consideration when making charging and sentencing decisions.

“Normally, on a criminal trespass case, say, the property owner where the person was trespassing, they would definitely have input,” he said.

Holcomb declined specific comment on the University’s ability to influence this case, as it is still ongoing.

Bianca Hinz-Foley, a Plan II Honors sophomore arrested in the sit-in last spring, said she and other students arrested hope the UT administration will make an effort to have the charges dropped now that they have realized the importance of joining the Workers Rights Consortium.

“We really do believe that UT will do the right thing and get the charges dropped,” she said.

Naomi Paik, assistant American studies professor, said she supports the actions of the arrested students and opposes their criminalization in this case.

“The representatives of United Students Against Sweatshops acted as thoughtful citizens of their community, which we should always encourage, exercised their rights to free speech, and, importantly, exhausted regular avenues of raising their concerns well before they organized a peaceful sit-in,” she said. “Instead of treating peaceful students as criminals, we have a responsibility to take seriously their ethical concerns.”

Villasenor said he hopes the UT community will come together to support the charged students as their trials approach, but he has not seen much support for them recently.

“Right now, it just does not seem like there is much energy behind it,” he said.

Villasenor said some members of the Make UT Sweatshop Free Coalition are in the planning stages of initiatives to raise community support before the trial.

Members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition link arms during a sit-in outside President PowersÂ’ office on April 18, 2012.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

On Wednesday, President William Powers Jr. told The Daily Texan the University will join the Worker Rights Consortium to monitor human rights in the production of UT apparel, an issue students of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition have advocated for the past few semesters.

Powers said UT has not yet officially joined the independent organization because there are procedures the University has yet to complete. However, Powers said the University will be joining the WRC.

“We’re taking steps now to go ahead and join that group — we intend to join,” Powers said. “There are just some paperwork things that need to get done to join. We’ve followed up with the WRC, and on both ends it will take a short period of time to actually have filled out the forms and pay the dues.”

The $50,000 required to join will be funded by the UT athletics department’s licensing budget. Powers said no tuition or general revenue will go to paying the fees.

“In the overall budget, it is not an insignificant amount of money, but it is manageable,” Powers said.

In April, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition protested in the President’s office because of the University’s refusal to join the WRC. 18 protestors were arrested, which Powers said prompted discussions between his office and the activist group.

“We got through that and I would say the discussions we had with the students after we got the difficulties resolved were extremely productive — they made very good presentations,” Powers said. “That led to actually talking to the WRC people, we were very impressed with the national director.”

At the time of the protests, Powers said the University was in the process of making budget cuts and was not sure if it could afford to join the WRC.

“Now that we’ve made the cuts we have a much better sense of where we are, and so it turns out we will be able to cover this and we think it will be a benefit,” Powers said.

The University will continue its work with Fair Labor Association. Powers said there were several universities who are members of both FLA and the WRC, making the situation not unusual.

“We think the FLA is an effective organization; it has a very good working relations with apparel providers,” Powers said. “We’re happy with FLA, so we don’t see any reason not to be working with them.”

Powers said the WRC is able to offer services FLA did not offer. For example, the WRC has the ability to conduct interviews with workers outside of their workplace.

“We will get reports from both groups, so they will be complimentary of each other,” Powers said. “In some ways they will overlap, but in some ways they will be additive to each other.” 

Less than two weeks after staging a sit-in in the lobby of President William Powers Jr.’s office, the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition carried out a similar demonstration Monday afternoon in the Office of the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer.

Unlike the April 18 sit-in, the activists decided not to stay in the office after 5 p.m., which would have resulted in arrests.

Monday’s sit-in came after a candlelight vigil held in front of Powers’ Tarrytown home Sunday night, when 25 activists used candles to illuminate several crosses bearing the names of deceased or murdered workers.

Plan II senior Andrew Wortham, who participated in Monday’s sit-in, said the coalition’s demands remain the same — that the President meet with the group’s student leaders and that the University affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium.

The WRC, the coalition argues, would more effectively monitor labor conditions in factories producing UT apparel than the Fair Labor Association, the monitoring agency with which the University currently affiliates.

“We told the administration that we were not leaving until a meeting between the President’s office and our democratically-elected leaders had been arranged,” Wortham said. “Administrators said that if we wrote a letter to the Dean of Students and to the President requesting a meeting that they would respond with an answer within 24 hours.”

The administration’s response to the letter will indicate whether President Powers’ stance on meeting with coalition members has changed or remained the same since the April 18 arrests.

“The students are going to submit via email a list of names to meet with President Powers,” saidUniversity spokesman Gary Susswein. “The President has concerns about meeting with students who have been arrested. We will see which students are on their list and their reasons for why they should meet with the President.”

The administration agreed to meet with two student members of the coalition last week — geography senior Carson Chavana and special education graduate student Alonzo Mendoza, neither of whom were arrested on April 18. The administration, however, refused to meet with previously arrested leaders William Yates, an Asian studies senior, and Bianca Hinz-Foley, a Plan II student not enrolled this semester. The coalition rejected the meeting on the grounds that Chavana and Mendoza would not be able to adequately represent the diverse coalition or provide the administration with new information regarding labor conditions.

The activists entered the office in order to submit Freedom of Information Act requests for documents pertaining to the University’s labor contracts, licensing agreements with apparel brands including Nike and the locations of factories that produce UT apparel, Wortham said. “We got into the office around 2 or 2:30 p.m., lined up against a wall and began filling out FOIA applications,” Wortham said.

Office staff were holding a party for a co-worker when the activists arrived and police kept some protesters outside because the room’s maximum occupancy limit had been reached, Wortham said.

“The cops said that we had to leave because, with the office party going on, the room was beyond its maximum occupancy,” Wortham said. “We told them that our business was more official than their office party and refused to leave.”

Printed on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 as: Protesters sit-in at administrative office