By Adeline Wilson and Olivia Krauth —
Underneath the Grawemeyer Hall rotunda, about twenty students sat against the wall, laptops and textbooks on their laps. Neon posters with handwritten slogans like “People over profit” and “Cut the contract” were scattered across the floor.
This was the scene around 2 p.m. on the last day of classes for the semester, and the student group Cards United Against Sweatshops, or CUAS, was on their third day of protesting.
On Monday, April 20 students took to Grawemeyer Hall in protest of U of L’s contract VF Corporation.
CUAS wants U of L to cut its contract with VF Corporation because it is JanSport’s parent company. The VF Corporation has previously refused to sign a safety accord for its workers in Bangladesh.
“Ten of us stayed in his (President James Ramsey’s) office for seven hours without any access to bathrooms, no one was allowed to pass food to us,” said Rebecca Peek, a student leader in CUAS.
“None of us want to be here — we have finals,” said Peek.
CUAS members felt that the issue was important enough to put their studies aside to advocate for social justice.
“It is really surprising, considering our mission statement for the university actually includes social justice. Yet, they (the university administration) actually seem reluctant to take this issue seriously,” Peek said when asked about what this meant for other student activism groups on campus.
The group eventually moved to the Grawemeyer Hall rotunda, since they were not allowed access to food or restrooms inside President Ramsey’s office.
“This is a statement of solidarity with workers, and this a statement of our strength as students to make this demand of our administration,” said Peek.
In response to the protests, the university invited CUAS members to participate in the contract review process for clothing companies. This invitation came on Tuesday, April 21, the second day of the sit-in.
U of L President James Ramsey and other U of L officials held a meeting with 16 CUAS members and offered the students the ability to participate in the contract review. The group was invited to join student government leaders, athletics and the contracting office for the review.
“We appreciate the students’ passion on this issue,” said Ramsey in a university press release. “And if they truly wish to reach their goals, they will come to the table and be part of the process with us.”
For CUAS, the university’s response was not good enough.
“During that meeting, we felt that (Ramsey) didn’t even address the main issues that we asked him to,” said Peek.
“They decided to quibble over how we should have this discussion in the future, while we were trying to have the discussion now. So, that’s why we’re still here. This isn’t something that can be put off.”
By Friday, April 24, Grawemeyer Hall was void of student protestors.
“As a group we decided that to end this round of protests on a strong note with all of our community supporters. So, we got in contact with all of our student and community coalition members and asked them to join us for one final rally to end this round of the occupation with a bang,” said Peek.
“Cards United Against Sweatshops will continue with this campaign until the contract with JanSport is cut and have many actions planned until that happens.”
As of press, the contract had not been cut.
CUAS is part of a larger movement across the nation to pressure universities to cut contracts with VF Corporation. A CUAS press release lists 18 universities that listened to student protestors.