Sit-In at Duke University Protests Handling of Admin’s Alleged Racism

(Photo: Creative Commons)

(Photo: Creative Commons)

Nine students at Duke University are occupying an administrative building on campus, demanding the resignation of three senior university officials in an effort to stand up against institutional racism and discrimination.

The sit-in began after an incident on August 30, 2014 before a football game, when executive vice president Tallman Trask hit a parking attendant with his car before calling her a “stupid n–ger” and driving off.

The parking attendant, Shelvia Underwood, filed a police report with the university’s police department shortly after the incident, saying that Trask had hit her with his car. However, she became fearful that she would lose her job and decided against filing a lawsuit, telling Trask she would be okay with a “sincere apology.”

Close to three weeks went by before Vice President for Administration Kyle Cavanugh delivered a note to Underwood.

“A tall guy comes up behind me and says, ‘Um, I don’t know exactly what happened out here, but whatever, here you go.’ And he hands me a card,” she told the Chronicle.

The note, which was signed by Trask, read, “Dear Ms. Underwood, I very much regret the incident before the Elon football game. I should have been more patient and I apologize,” the Chronicle reports.

Trask had previously denied the claims, but after being shown a copy of the note, did admit to hitting her with his car. He still denies the accusations of using racist language, reports Breanna Edwards for The Root.

Underwood filed a $100,000 lawsuit against Trask last month, accusing him of negligence, battery, civil conspiracy, and obstruction of justice. The university is listed as the second defendant.

The nine student members of the Students and Workers in Solidarity coalition group took up residence in the Allen Building on campus on Friday following a protest seeking the resignation of Trask, Cavanaugh and Parking and Transportation Director Carl DePinto.

The protestors noted that the trio has already been warned that disciplinary actions could be taken against them.

The students have reported that they are not willing to negotiate with administrators until campus workers are allowed to be included in the discussions.

“Yet again, administration is showing that they only value the opinions of a few members of Duke’s community, and only when they are forced to by overwhelming media attention and campus support,” reads a Facebook post written by the student group.

Protestors have also stated they should not be held responsible for the decision to close the Allen Building while the negotiations are going on, saying that faculty and staff members can still easily access their offices and meeting spaces.

Meanwhile, the school’s administration has said that it is unwilling to negotiate with the students as long as they remain inside the Allen Building, reports Elaina Athans for ABC11 News.

University spokesman Keith Lawrence said the school is fully committed to reaching a mutually agreeable solution to the issue at hand peacefully. However, he adds that closing the building has been a disruption to students and faculty members and cannot be allowed to continue. Because of this, the school will only discuss the matter further with protesters after they have voluntarily left the building.