University of Chicago students plan to stage a sit-in on Thursday afternoon to demand several actions from the administration, including putting an end to racist policing practices and paying university workers $15 an hour.
Student activists say they plan to have 30 students and alumni go into the administration building and drop a banner from the windows that will read “Democratize UofC.” A group of 250 protesters — including students, adjunct faculty, and community members — will walk through the streets and block traffic before marching through the quad and staging a sit in in front of the administration building.
The list of demands also includes expanding student disability services and disabled students’ access to buildings and divesting from fossil fuels. When asked about what ties together the list of demands, Anna Wood, a second-year student and university worker, told ThinkProgress that the “corporatization” of the university is the reason why all of these issues remain unaddressed.
“This is not just our university this is happening to. Universities across the country are becoming more and more corporatized,” she said. “And as that happens, we see decisions are being made by increasingly smaller groups of administrators and trustees who are mostly looking after the interests of profit and prestige, and what’s good for the donors and prospective students, rather than the things people who are studying and working and living here actually need and want.”
According to Wood, actions like sit-ins are necessary to get the administration to respond to students’ requests. She says it has taken years to get administrators to acknowledge some of their demands.
We see decisions are being made by increasingly smaller groups of administrators and trustees.
“We know that all of these demands have a huge amount of campus-wide support and yet it’s so hard to even get a meeting with an administrator about these things. It’s clear that it only becomes their priority when it feels imperative in the public eye for them to do so,” Wood said.
A coalition of student groups and community groups will be involved in the action, including Fair Budget UChicago, The UChicago Climate Action Network, Campaign for Equitable Policing, and Students for Disability Justice, as members of the IIRON Student Network at UChicago.
When it comes to racist policing practices, students say they are angry that university police officers, who represent one of the largest private police forces in the country, are able to patrol 6.5 square miles and monitor 65,000 people, the majority of whom are unconnected to the university. Students say that police are guilty of racial profiling and aren’t transparent enough about their practices.
Although Wood says she has seen more transparency in recent years due to public pressure, she is worried about the fact that the university police are not subject to FOIA requests. The Campaign for Equitable Policing, a group of South Side residents who want to end racial profiling, pushed an Illinois House bill, H.B. 3932, that would require the university to follow similar standards for transparency as public police forces. It passed the House last spring but has not moved forward in the Senate.
The demand for a living wage has also been an ongoing issue. In March, 60 students gathered to advocate for a $15 an hour wage and gathered a petition of 1,000 signatures demanding higher wages, according to the Chicago Maroon, a university student newspaper. Wood said she is personally affected by the low wages paid to university workers since she works 10 hours a week on the campus. She is paid $10 an hour, the same as the city’s minimum wage. But she says students struggle to afford to live on or near the campus.
“I think people think our school is this elite institution, which it is, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who lives here can afford to live on poverty wages. Even though a lot of people have great financial aid packages a lot of people get [cheated] on those things,” Wood said. “There are a lot of people I know who have to work an unreasonable amount of hours on campus along with their studies just to get by and afford to live in this neighborhood, which is petty expensive. I’m not in the worst situation but it is really stressful to have to work 10 hours a week at an institution that expects you to be overproductive all the time in your studies and constantly get As.”
Faculty have also been involved in these demands, especially adjunct faculty. More than 250 faculty members told the university to divest from fossil fuel earlier this year. Professors from over 50 departments endorsed the petition and their signatures represented around 10 percent of the faculty, the Guardian reported.