Sabina Hinz-Foley

Plan II junior and student activist Bianca Hinz-Foley spoke last Thursday on the main mall about her incarceration connected to the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition sit-in last Wednesday April 18. The arrest of the 18 activists has inspired both disillusionment and support within the UT community.

Photo Credit: Rebeca Rodriguez | Daily Texan Staff

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

Geology senior Jessica Villareal is escorted out of the Tower by UTPD officers as 18 members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition were arrested Wednesday afternoon.

Photo Credit: Thomas Allison | Daily Texan Staff

Last week’s arrest of 18 activists connected to the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition has inspired both disillusionment and support within the UT community.

Sabina Hinz-Foley, a Plan II junior and one of the students arrested, said the protest and the ensuing jail time generated wide support.

“We have hundreds of people contacting us and asking how they can get involved,” Hinz-Foley said.

Hinz-Foley said the group’s slogan, which is “make UT sweatshop-free,” does not communicate the complexity of their solution to prevent the abuse of workers producing UT apparel.

“We’re not saying that by affiliating with the Workers Rights Consortium that UT will be sweatshop free,” Hinz-Foley said. “But the WRC is the only effective and independent labor monitoring agency. Affiliating with the WRC will give us the tools we need to make UT accountable. It’s the first step toward UT being sweatshop free.”

Ricardo Capuano, a government senior who studies social movements and was raised in Mexico, said the protesters’ message was lost in the buzz surrounding their arrest.

“If they wanted to pursue a real impact, then they went with the wrong method,” Capuano said. “People are not going to hear about their proposals for change, they are going to hear about the arrests.”

The activists need to engage the wider student body in their cause, Capuano said. Unless that happens, protests like the sit-in in President Powers’ office will fail to compel the UT community to act, he said.

“They need to mobilize the student body and get other students active in creating solutions to address grievances,” Capuano said. “I admit it is too early to tell whether their actions were successful.”

Thorne Webb Dreyer, who attended UT intermittently from 1963-68 and helped found a popular underground newspaper, The Rag, said the arrests were necessary to generate the level of media attention the activists received.

“They certainly got good publicity, and that coverage certainly would not have happened without the arrests,” Dreyer said.

The activists should be proud of both their stand for justice and the misdemeanor for criminal trespassing that now adorns their criminal records, Dreyer said. Yet, they should be humbled by the history of activists who risked much more during the Civil Rights Movement and protests against the Vietnam War, he said.

“[The criminal record] is a badge of honor,” Dreyer said. “It shows that you care about what is going on in the world. It’s a minor consequence compared to people I saw being bayoneted at the Pentagon.”

Now that students have demonstrated their commitment to a cause, the administration has a duty to address their concerns, he said.

“There are certainly times when an issue is important enough to put yourself on the line,” Dreyer said. “The administration has an obligation to respond to that commitment.”

Printed on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 as: Activist arrest motivate others to join in coalition