On Wednesday, May 10, a protest was held outside of Raymond House, organized by Appleton Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The protest was sparked by growing discontent surrounding various issues on campus, including poor working conditions, low wages and issues surrounding accessibility on campus. An article written in the Lawrentian about the alleged poor working conditions and unjust termination of Campus Safety officers was also cited as an inspiration for action.
During the protest, Vice President for Student Life, Chris Clarke, stood outside of Raymond House to answer questions and address concerns. Students gathered around and asked Clarke a wide variety of questions for over an hour about various issues on campus.
The first issues brought up by students were concerns surrounding asbestos and black mold being present in Brokaw Hall. Both issues have caused a lot of concern within the student body, especially since students are living in Brokaw and could be exposed. Clarke said that students were safe from the asbestos, as it was not exposed and disturbed. According to Clarke, a lot of the issues with campus infrastructure were not getting the attention they needed in past decades. Clarke seemed confident in stating that Joseph King, the Assistant Vice President of Facilities Operations, is putting in work to start updating the university’s infrastructure.
Poor infrastructure was a topic that many at the protest were concerned about. Sophomore Qiaochuhan Li brought up concerns about the holes in the Conservatory basement’s ceiling. According to Li, whenever it rains, water drips through the holes in the ceiling, yet the holes have been present for over two years. Li wanted to know why this issue has not been solved for so long, and why the school is using money to buy new things like locker rooms and not spending money on fixing already existing infrastructure. Clarke was unable to comment on the issue and referred to Facilities operations. However, Clarke did comment on the question about where Lawrence is putting its money.
“Sometimes donors or gifts are sent towards certain things,” said Clarke. “Let’s talk about the arch. The arch is a great addition, but it was very much a donor saying I want to build this arch.”
Clarke discussed how money sent from donors is often given exclusively to build certain things that the donor wants to see built. Therefore, the university must use that donated money to do what the donor wants the money to be used for. As a result, some construction that the university launches may not be necessarily what every student needs or wants, but rather what the donor wants to see the money be put toward.
Questions about the ability for workers on campus to speak to the press were also asked. These questions were raised in response to the anonymous Campus Safety officers who spoke with The Lawrentian during the making of the article on Campus Safety working conditions. One Lawrentian staff member present at the event was under the impression that Campus Safety officers were told not to speak to The Lawrentian. The staff member alleges that after the article was released, Campus Safety Director Derek Diehl questioned Campus Safety officers on who spoke to the The Lawrentian to discover the identity of anonymous sources. Clarke said that the administration does not forbid workers from speaking to the press, unless it is about confidential information, such as mental health issues and other non-disclosable information of a similar nature. Clarke stated that as far as workers speaking on working conditions, they were an open book and transparent. He said that these allegations were just allegations. Students pushed back on this and asked if there was an investigation being done to see if these alleged interrogations were happening.
“There are conversations,” said Clarke. “I wouldn’t say investigation; conversations. It’s not a formal thing.”
Student worker wages were also brought into question. Many were outraged by the low wages that student workers are provided and wanted to see changes regarding how much student workers are paid for their labor. According to a study done by M.I.T., the living wage for Outagamie County sits at 14 dollars per hour. However, wages at Lawrence range from 7.25 an hour to a maximum of 10 dollars an hour with a handful of jobs. Sophomore and head of delegation for Appleton SDS Audari Tamayo was especially concerned by working conditions and poor wages.
“The wages are way too low,” Said Tamayo. “They laugh in our faces, knowing we can’t survive off of those wages while they have university-funded cars and housing.”
Clarke could not comment on the concerns surrounding wages entirely and referred to the Payroll and Finance offices. Clarke commented on how the budget is reviewed every year, and changes are made based on their assessment. Students once again pushed back on this comment. The students felt that wages have been stagnant for an exceedingly long time. Students also felt that these low wages made it very difficult for economically disadvantaged students who rely on on-campus work to be able to pay for school. International students attending Lawrence echoed these concerns by saying that these jobs are often the only jobs they are allowed to have due to their status as international students. They feel that these low wages make it difficult for them to get ahead and meet the cost of living required for them to live in Appleton.
“It makes it incredibly difficult for students who are economically disadvantaged to begin with, many of whom don’t have cars or access to transportation,” said junior Hal M. DeLong. “For a lot of people in those situations, we can only afford to work on campus, but the wages we get are not livable.”
The presence of the Appleton Police Department on campus also worried many students. Students expressed that they did not feel safe with the increased police presence, especially with police being a force that increases rates of violence on campuses, according to a protestor, something that Clarke claimed the administration was cognizant of. Some students were also worried about an email that was sent out to Community Advisors (CAs) instructing them to call the police during altercations between students. Clarke responded to the second point by stating he had sent out a clarification email saying that other steps should be taken first to deescalate the situation before calling the police. Clarke further stated that the administration is not trying to increase the police presence on campus and is instead trying to build bridges for better communication in the future. According to Clarke, they will be hiring someone to serve as a liaison between the university and the police department and are willing to arrange a meeting for students to voice their concerns to them.
Accessibility was also a topic brought up frequently by concerned students. These concerns included the lack of accessible dining options for students with dietary restrictions, and other issues surrounding eating with the university’s meal plan, which every student is required to subscribe to. Another concern brought up by students was accessibility in older buildings for those who have physical disabilities that may hinder their ability to live with ease. Clarke referred to the Office of Accessibility; however, the Office of Accessibility was said to be unreliable by the protesting students. Students claimed that accommodations are often turned down, typically without a given reason. Students also took issue with the vast amount of strict requirements needed to apply for accommodation. According to some students, it is discouraging to apply for accommodations because of how long and tedious the process is. The need for extensive amounts of paperwork and a physician clearing for some of the accommodations also outraged students. Students felt that this requirement placed more of a burden on already struggling students. Furthermore, they believe that it is often unrealistic for students to get all this paperwork and clearance. Junior and SDS event coordinator Jonnie Urban especially echoed this sentiment.
“I don’t have insurance in this state, so I can’t get proof of anything for accommodations,” said Urban. “I struggle to find primary doctors or specialists because I am considered a liability because of my chronic illness. I can’t bring you the things you want.”
Clarke responded by saying that students with this issue should get the necessary paperwork while they are back home during break; however, summer break is only three months. According to Urban, it takes up to six months to see a specialist in their home state where they can receive care and get the documentation they need to get accommodations. They feel that this is a massive oversight by the administration and is an issue that affects more people than just themselves.
Despite Chris Clarke coming to hear the concerns of the students, some felt he was dismissive towards their concerns. Others aren’t hopeful due to the fact that this is not the first time that demands for change have been brought to the administration.
“I don’t think that there is a precedent that would justify students putting much hope into the administration doing something to resolve these issues,” said Terrence Freeman ‘22. “I think him [Clarke] coming out to this event was more so an attempt to try and commandeer this event, to pacify it and steer it in a direction that is suitable for his interests.”
At the end of the protest, Clarke thanked those who came, but also said that some of the comments, discourse and demands made by the students were unconstructive.
“I think that was just the politically correct way of saying he was offended by what I said,” said Tamayo. “I was voicing the students’ demands, and demands should turn into action. The only way [the demands] won’t be constructive is if they [school administration and the board of trustees] ignore them.”