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Occupy DukeSource: Via Twitter

The climate of student-faculty campus relations across the country reached a boiling point last fall as different institutions from Mizzou to Harvard were forcibly brought to their knees by student-led protests.

The latest movement comes out of Raleigh, NC, the home of Duke University, where students and workers have joined forces to demand fair wages and a safer, more accepting work/study environment.

Tensions came to a head when Executive Vice President Tallman Trask reportedly hit parking attendant Shelvia Underwood with his car back in February. He allegedly called her a “stupid n*****” before driving off, The Duke Chronicle reports. After issuing an email apology to Ms. Underwood, Trask released an official statement saying he did not intentionally hit her and that he never called her a racial slur.

This altercation is now at the center of a firestorm of protests that have led students to camp outside of the president’s office for the fourth day. HB spoke exclusively to one of the nine students camped inside of the administrative building.

Jazmynne Williams, class of 2018, told us that the atmosphere on campus is similar to the tensions bubbling around the country:

“We are just one year out from a noose being hung on campus,” she explained, referencing an earlier racially charged incident on campus.

The students are demanding Trask be fired along with three other administrators and asking for the minimum wage to be lifted to $15/hr for all campus workers.

Occupy Duke

Source: Via Twitter

Jazmynne expressed that individual faculty members had trouble communicating with the higher ups, so the Black Faculty Caucus broke the information to bring awareness to the issue.

The coalition of staff and students formed the Duke Students & Workers In Solidarity group to unite against worker abuse.

Hashtag #DismantleDukePlantation became a digital picket sign as students used social media to bring light to the situation:

The students so far have had a small victory, securing a public apology from Trask for the incident between him and Ms. Underwood, but negotiations are still ongoing:

“This situation, though it is about workers, it is about race. While we may be removed from the civil rights era we’re still going through situations where race is very relevant,” Jazmynne explained.

Occupy Duke

Source: Via Twitter

We reached out to the News and Communications center at Duke University and received this statement:

The Duke administration has worked very hard with the students who currently occupy the Allen Building to enable productive discussions, including providing amnesty to the nine students in the building and offering solutions to several of their demands.  So far, the students have met with President Brodhead, Provost Kornbluth, Vice President for Student Affairs Moneta, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Wasiolek and Dean and Vice Provost Nowicki, as well as faculty leaders.

The negotiations have continued today (Monday), and it has become clear that reaching agreement on all the remaining demands will require far more extensive conversation, likely to include other members of the Duke community.

Closing the Allen Building while these negotiations go on has presented a significant disruption to students, faculty, staff and visitors, and cannot continue indefinitely.  As a result, the university will only continue negotiations after the nine students voluntarily leave the Allen Building.

The university is committed to completing these negotiations and reaching a mutually agreeable resolution in a peaceful and productive way.


Keith Lawrence

executive director, News & Communications

Duke University

We are standing in solidarity with the students of Duke as they push for better learning and working conditions for everyone on campus.


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Inside The Protest: Duke University Student Explains The Tensions Behind #DismantleDukePlantation  was originally published on