I guess Emory changed its mind about allowing students to protest the treatment of sub-contract workers on the campus. (Read this blog from last week for background.)
Last night, Emory grad student Laura Emiko Soltis left me this voice message amid a lot of noise in the background: “Our peaceful tent city outside the Administration Building that has been up since Thursday has been ordered taken down. But there are no policies prohibiting Emory students from sleeping outside in tents.”
Soltis is one of the students protesting the treatment of cafeteria workers by the management company Sodexo.
In the blog last week, Soltis explained why she and other students believe Emory should take a stand on even how contract employees are treated: “These workers are not protected by the code of conduct of Emory…by an ethically engaged university. They have no avenue of redress. Emory is one of the largest employers in Atlanta and this is something that Emory needs to take seriously.”
Soltis was arrested Monday for her refusal to vacate the tent encampment. Three other Emory students, two Georgia State students and a Georgia Tech student were also arrested, says Emory student and group spokesman Alex Zavell. (Zavell co-wrote a piece for the Emory Wheel explaining his stand.)
I reached an exhausted Zavell at noon today after he spent the night rounding up bail money to spring his colleagues. He and the freed students had just met at a donut shop down the block from DeKalb County jail to regroup. At 6:30 today, they plan a press conference and vigil on the Emory campus, said Zavell.
As promised, Emory President Jim Wagner met with the student protesters last week, but Zavell said the university is maintaining its position that no action is warranted.
(Emory has characterized the strife as an eruption of tensions between Sodexo and a union organizing effort. And in a statement to the Emory Wheel, Sodexo Resident District Manager Joe Mitchell said, “Regardless of what [Students and Workers in Solidarity] wishes to state in their pamphlets, employees are not mistreated.”)
After the meeting with Wagner, Zavell says the students resumed their protest without incident until Monday night. An Emory administrator showed up and told them that the quad tents had to come down, and an Emory grounds crew began to forcibly do so, he says.
“Everything had been very respectful and there was no complaints. We kept the quad clean,” said Zavell. “But we were presented with a letter that we needed to reserve the quad. But we had been there for five days and this was the first time anyone had mentioned that we have to reserve the quad.”
The students retreated to one last standing tent, but were warned that they were trespassing. Being Emory students, they asked what seems a logical series of questions. Were they trespassing if they were outside the tent? Or next to the tent?
When told that they would not be considered trespassers outside or near the tent, they asked why they were trespassers inside the tent. That logic and their refusal to leave apparently didn’t sit well with Emory officials, who then brought in police to arrest them.
I admire the students for taking up a cause other than themselves. I know many of you will respond with cracks that these kids don’t know what real life is, but getting arrested for what you believe seems real enough to me.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog