The student-led Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition demanded to speak with President William Powers Jr. during their April 18 sit-in, and the administration has responded by locking students out of the President’s office while also offering to meet with select members of the group.
The administration locked the doors in the stairwell leading up to the President’s office on the fourth floor of the Main Building Tuesday morning. University spokesman Gary Susswein said the University decided to exercise an abundance of caution in light of last week’s protest.
“[Locking the stairwell doors] was done for several reasons, including the presence of a visiting foreign dignitary on campus, Tuesday only, and the recent disruptions to staff members who work on the fourth floor,” Susswein said.
UT Police Department officer David Sorrell, who guards the President’s office, said the office would remain on lockdown for the rest of the week.
Students who support the coalition’s demand that the University affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor monitoring organization, were unable to deliver their letters of concern to the President’s office, said Sabina Hinz-Foley, a Plan II junior who was among the 18 arrested last Wednesday.
The locked doors were representative of the University’s unwillingness to speak with students about the issue of labor conditions in factories producing UT apparel, said William Yates, coalition leader and Asian studies senior.
“This is symbolic of how much they [the administration] want to communicate with students,” Yates said. “People just wanted to do peaceful letter drops.”
Last Friday night, Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly attempted to arrange a meeting between President Powers and coalition members Carson Chavana, a geography senior, and Alonzo Mendoza, a special education graduate student. Chavana and Mendoza were not arrested last Wednesday.
Reagins-Lilly confirmed that she called Alonzo shortly after 10 p.m. Friday and at 8:40 p.m. on Saturday. She also confirmed that she sent Chavana several text messages over the weekend.
“It’s not uncommon for me to have conversations with students at nine or 10 at night,” Lilly said. “My intention was never to catch the students off-guard.”
Susswein said the administration is disappointed by Chavana’s decision to decline to meet with President Powers Monday.
“The President wants to continue the progressive discussion about this issue with appropriate student leadership and learn about any new developments,” Susswein said. “But he doesn’t want to sit in on the political rally that has been proposed in place of the meeting.”
Susswein said the President will not meet with Yates or former student Bianca Hinz-Foley, both of whom were arrested last Wednesday, because the President does not want to reward criminal behavior.
Yates said a meeting with Chavana alone would not be representative of the coalition or allow Bianca to present the President with first-hand information regarding the abuse of workers in factories in Honduras, which she visited in late January of this year.
“We [the coalition] are really eager to meet with the president, but with all the conditions they are setting up, this will not be a meeting for actual honest dialogue,” Yates said. “They [the administration] were just trying to do this to save face.”
Printed on Thursday, April 26, 2012 as: Tension arises in sweatshop dispute