Student protesters in the US who are staging a sit-in in part of a university building over allegations of racism among staff leaders have entered their fifth day of occupation.
Nine students have been camping out in the main administrative building at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, since Friday, more than a month after the student newspaper, The Chronicle, published an online investigative article.
In the article, the paper reported on how Duke’s executive vice president, Tallman Trask, allegedly hit black parking attendant, Shelvia Underwood, with his car in August 2014.
According to ABC News, in a lawsuit filed last month by Underwood, she has also accused Trask of “using a racial slur” against her as he drove off.
Despite The Chronicle reporting in its original article that Trask said he “did not intentionally hit” the parking attendant, he has always denied using any racial slur, calling the latter “a complete fabrication.”
In a petition urging the university community to boycott the university, the demonstrators - who call themselves Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity - attached a statement demanding “accountability and justice for black and brown workers.”
The statement added: “The administration has remained unapologetic and silent on the university’s racist abuse. Yet, it has threatened peaceful student occupiers with arrests and disciplinary action, including suspension and expulsion.”
The protesters have also said they refuse to leave the building until a list of demands have been met by the university’s administration.
Urging Duke University to “dismantle its history of plantation politics” and take “immediate action” to address systemic discrimination and abuse, the demands include the “immediate termination, without compensation,” of Trask and two other members of administration, that Trask “issue a public apology to Ms Underwood,” and for Trask to pay “full legal and medical reparations” to the attendant also.
Other demands include “transparency and community input” in the recruitment and selection process for Duke administrators, as well as for the minimum wage for Duke employees and subcontracted workers to “be raised to $15 (£10.61) an hour.”
Addressing the issue in a statement of its own on Monday, though, the university described how the Duke administration has worked “very hard” with the occupiers to enable “productive discussions,” including providing amnesty to all nine and “offering solutions to several of their demands.”
The university added how the students have, so far, met with the institution’s president, provost, vice president for student affairs, associate vice president for student affairs, dean and vice provost, as well as faculty leaders.
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The institution added: “The negotiations have continued Monday and it has become clear that reaching agreement on all the remaining demands will require far more extensive conversation, likely to include other members of the Duke community.
“Closing the building while these negotiations go on has presented a significant disruption to students, faculty, staff, and visitors, and cannot continue indefinitely. As a result, the university will only continue negotiations after the nine students voluntarily leave.”
The university concluded that it is “committed to completing these negotiations” and reaching a “mutually agreeable resolution in a peaceful and productive way.”
Addressing the allegations that have been made against him, Trask also issued a statement of his own through the university on Monday about his interaction with Underwood on the day the incident is alleged to have taken place, something he said has been “a subject of much recent discussion.”
The executive vice president continued: “While the details of what happened are a matter of disagreement and subject of civil litigation, I recognise my conduct fell short of the civility and respectful conduct each member of this community owes to every other.
“I express my apology to Ms Underwood, and to this community, and re-commit myself to ensuring that these values are upheld for all.”
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