Faculty, staff continue to sign letter in solidarity with student activists
More than 400 faculty members, graduate students and staff have signed a letter of solidarity with #ReclaimOSU students at Ohio State, which began being distributed the day after a student-led sit-in in Bricker Hall on Wednesday.
Students protesting in Bricker Hall were threatened with physical removal, arrest and possible expulsion. At the sit-in, which began as a rally outside Thompson Library, participants were demanding more transparency from university administration. University Police stood guard at all of the administration building’s doors to keep additional students from entering.
Faculty joined students at Bricker Hall on Thursday to deliver a press statement about the previous night’s sit-in. At that time, a group of faculty read sections of the letter supporting the #ReclaimOSU protesters.
The letter claimed that the university and its police department handled the protest poorly and in a way that contradicted the goal of the university.
“To deal with a peaceful student protest with police is shameful,” the letter stated. “To try to starve students out of a building is an embarrassment. To threaten expulsion for civil disobedience is unethical. These intimidation tactics are in direct conflict with what we try to teach our students every day: to be engaged citizens in the world.”
The letter went on to say the university should allow students to peacefully assemble and said the actions of the university were in line with those of powerful institutions who are fearful in the face of change.
The majority of signees are faculty members and graduate or doctorate students.
The letter was sent to University President Michael Drake on Friday.
“We absolutely support the right of free expression, and we encourage vigorous dialogue,” university spokesman Ben Johnson said. “Everyone has to follow the law and the student code of conduct. We were not regulating speech; we were regulating conduct.”
Leslie Alexander, an associate professor in African-American and African studies who co-authored the letter, said she feels the threat of physical action against protesting students was excessive, and the letter of solidarity, which acknowledges that, can help bring more attention to the issue.
“The sense that I get from the email correspondence when people are writing in and saying they want to be added is that they just want to make their voices heard to make it known that they don’t feel that the administration’s threats and intimidation were an appropriate response,” she said.
Alexander said she and faculty present at Bricker Hall on Wednesday asked University Police multiple times if the students would be allowed to stay, even overnight, and peacefully protest, and that they were assured that the students could stay without ramification.
“That, for me, is really what motivated my participation,” she said. “We asked numerous times, and we were essentially lied to about what the potential consequences were for the students.”
At 8 p.m. on Wednesday, University Police tweeted that “accommodations (have been) made for #ReclaimOSU students already inside to stay overnight” and that they “can leave at any time.”
However, by the time faculty members had left Bricker Hall later that evening, Jay Kasey, senior vice president for administration and planning, told the students that any of them still in the building at 5 a.m. on Wednesday would be cleared from the room and arrested.
“Our police officers will physically pick you up and take you to a paddy wagon and take you to be arrested,” he said after a student asked Kasey what he meant by “clear the room” in a video posted to YouTube.
Kasey later said he was “fairly confident” students still in the building at 5 a.m. would also face expulsion, citing a violation of the code of student conduct. In another video, he advised students to leave immediately.
The decision to give the ultimatum came after university leaders decided the presence of the students in the building might scare employees working the following day. He said several employees left Bricker Hall early on Wednesday out of fear.
The students involved in the sit-in included those involved in Real Food OSU, United Students Against Sweatshops and OSU Divest, who initially said they would not leave until one of their demands were met.
Real Food OSU and OSU Divest said they wanted OSU to provide full access to the annual budget and a financial adviser to detail exactly where those funds are being spent and what corporations OSU is supporting.
The groups also demanded that the administration agrees to one of the three campaigns proposed by the organizations as a sign of good faith to continue working with them, as stated in a press release.
Treva Lindsey, an assistant professor in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, also contributed to the letter, along with Moritz College of Law assistant professor Amna Akbar. Lindsey said she and other faculty authors wanted to make clear to the OSU administration that the faculty, staff and graduate students were disappointed by the university’s response.
“When something happens like what happened on Wednesday evening, our campus community must affirm what our values are and what our commitment as a university is to hearing and engaging the voices of our students — especially when these voices may feel and be marginalized and unheard,” Lindsey said.
She added that she felt faculty should be supportive of holding difficult dialogues and raising issues about campus climate and social justice through teaching and advising.
“Civil disobedience and student activism have a long tradition at OSU and at college campuses all over the world. These students are part of this storied and dynamic tradition,” she said.
Alexander said that although the letter has been submitted to Drake, they will continue to allow people to show their solidarity as signatures come in and possibly formally resubmit it.
“We have continued to let people know that we’re just going to keep collecting signatures as they come in because there’s obviously a lot of people out there who want to express their support and solidarity,” she said.
Jay Panandiker contributed to this article.