The Living Wage Coalition staged a sit-in inside President Taylor Reveley’s office on April 20th, refusing to vacate despite receiving five separate student conduct violations each ranging from disrupting the business of the university to refusing to comply with college officials to unauthorized presence in a closed college building. At almost 1am in the morning, all five members of the Living Wage Coalition who refused to leave Reveley’s office were arrested and released with court summons.
“Arresting students is never the desired outcome – one we have attempted to avoid the entire day,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Ginger Ambler in an address to the five students prior to their arrest.
“We are staging a sit-in because we feel like this is the only thing that will be able to work to really pressure the administration to act on living wages,” said Katie Dalby (’11), a major organizer for the Coalition. “We have worked so hard this semester, gathering student, faculty, and community support for living wages. And last week at the BOV meeting, the President made it one hundred percent clear that he was not willing to move forward, that he’s not willing to find solutions. He says there is no solution.”
The LWC held a rally inside Reveley’s office at noon with roughly thirty-some people attending including Associate Professor Jennifer Bickhan-Mendez of the Sociology Department and Professor Cindy Hahamovitch of the History Department who gave a teach-in on the history of the fight for Living Wages.
At around 2:10pm, President Reveley abandoned his office after LWC members continued chanting and reading workers’ stories aloud, assuring members that if their goal had been to force him out of his office to get work done, they had succeeded.
“I think that certainly we want the students to have an opportunity to express themselves… [however,] we want to continue the College’s business,” said Brian Whitson, spokesman for the College. “Student activism is part of the college experience. We know they feel strongly and we wanted to allow them to protest in an orderly manner. But now we have to get on with the business of the College.”
“Even though we might be disrupting the work of the university for one day, workers who remain in poverty working here, they’re lives are disrupted every day by having to work second and third jobs, by having to choose between paying the rent and feeding their kids,” said Dalby.
At around 2:25pm, Ginger Ambler, Vice President for Student Affairs notified the group of students in the office that they had until 2:45 to vacate the office or face student conduct violations. “No one here is saying that you don’t have the right to speech or to protest or to lobby for a cause you believe in. I did not say that. You just don’t have the right to disrupt the business of the College.”
K.B. Brower (’11), a major member of the LWC, questioned this and argued that the College was trying to silence their free speech. “You do not have the right to free speech in this office. You have the right to free speech in public areas,” said Patricia Volp, Dean of Students. “Any violations can result in a range of sanctions from warning to suspension… Your cooperation makes a lot of difference.”
As a number of students left, leaving behind 5 remaining students and the LWC’s attorney, they chanted “Peace and Power to the People” and “No Justice, no Peace.”
At 2:45pm, Dean Volp began taking the names of the people left in the room after 2:45. She reported that these people will face conduct violations for disrupting the normal business of the College and for refusing to comply with the directions of college officials. Remaining in the room were Katie Dalby (’11), Maggie Russolello (’12), Addie Alexander (’11), and Emily Glasson (’13) as well as the attorney Paul Falabella.
The five students will face additional conduct violations for remaining in the building after 5pm as that is when the Brafferton officially closes. At around 5pm, Russolello and Dalby spoke to a group of supporters from the window of Reveley’s office despite warnings from members of the administration not to do so.
Now that the Brafferton was closed, LWC members were not allowed to bring in food for the five remaining members sitting in Reveley’s office.
When pressed for comment, police officers sitting in the lower level of the Brafferton suggested that it was not in the plan at that time to arrest or forcibly remove the LWC members from the building, but rather to allow them to remain there until they chose to leave. However, in a statement after the arrests, Chief Challis of the William and Mary Police clarified that they had merely been trying to give the students as many opportunities to leave as possible, but in the end, needed to enforce the law.
In her statement to the students before their arrest, Ginger Ambler stated, “At this point, you have been given multiple opportunities to leave the building. I am here to give you one final opportunity to exit and avoid legal action… If you remain in the Brafferton after 10 minutes, this will become a police matter. You will be arrested for trespassing, and this will become a matter for the legal system.”
As it stands, the five members of the LWC will be facing a minimum five student conduct violations each on top of whatever results of their respective court summons.