Dear Emory Community,
The 7 of us students were handcuffed on Emory’s campus and spent the night in jail. Our Monday night proved to be one of the most emotionally challenging and physically taxing experiences of not only our college careers, but our lives. Although we were separated by gender, into groups of 4 and 3, the 7 of us were subject to the carceral process, including all of the humiliation and dehumanization that comes with it. Admittedly, we were shook by the management of our bodies that took place – among our experiences, the physical searching, the medical examining, and the forced strip-down brought to life the hardships all who are processed by Dekalb County Jail must face. But, even after this unforgiving 14 or so hour process, following the week of peaceful protest, our resolve to address the issue of worker justice on campus remains as strong as ever.
Students and Workers in Solidarity, our student group, has been engaged in addressing the issue of employment injustice on Emory campus for more than 16 months. Prior to April 20th, we met withthe administration 9 times to discuss the plight of food service workers on our campus, in addition to raising awareness through informational meetings and an open forum at which workers articulated their grievances themselves. We felt dismayed that President Wagner continued to evade the issue or recast it in terms irrelevant to our concerns – terms that he could dictate and control (e.g., mentioning of SEIU). Earlier this month, we asked President Wagner to address the public on his stance at an event held in front of the administration building on the afternoon of April 20, and he did not. So we went to his office and waited for him to do so. Peacefully, we waited on the fourth floor of the administration building for some hours, and then waited outside of the building for several days.
We were aware that commencement was approaching. On Monday, April 25th, we were discussing ways in which we could remove our presence prior to graduation while maintaining strong commitment to the task at hand. At this time, around 6:30 PM, VP Hauk approached our group, and demanded that we leave. He gave us “5 minutes” to remove what taken 5 days to build up – 10+ tents, several signs, personal belongings (e.g., sleeping bags, blankets), and coolers of food and beverages. About 3 minutes later, VP Hauk himself, along with campus facilities workers, and 2 well-dressed men who refused to identify themselves, began tearing down our signs and uprooting our tents. As can be seen on video (@ http://atlanta.indymedia.org/local/seven-emory-students-arrested-sodexo-demonstration – this video is different from the YouTube clip; it includes footage of VP Hauk’s demands), we pleaded with these Emory representatives to allow us to handle our belongings ourselves. They briefly pulled back, yet after a few minutes of watching us move our belongings, they resumed the aggressive act of forced removal. After 5 days of peaceful presence, this show of sudden and naked aggression alarmed and dismayed us. Several of us decided to show commitment to our cause and to one another by sitting in one of our tents in the middle of campus.
As we sat, we were unaware of what would happen next. The officials seemed to change the rules by the minute, first telling us to remove our presence, then stating that we could remain on the green if we exited our tent. Uncertain, intimidated by the growing police presence, but unified, 7 of us locked arms and remained seated in one tent. A police officer informed us that we were trespassing. Minutes later, police entered our tents and forcibly ripped our arms apart so that we could be arrested and carried away.
We appeal to the Emory community to condemn this use of force and refocus attention on just treatment of workers on our campus – along with wider cultivation of community. Sometimes ethical engagement can make us uncomfortable. But we will continue to affirm the priority of peaceful dialogue over aggressive action.
Laura Emiko Soltis