Student protesters took over an alumni event at Duke University in North Carolina on Saturday to demand the hiring of more African-American, Latino, and transgender faculty members, as well as a higher campus minimum wage and better support for illegal alien students attending the school.
The Raleigh-based News & Observer reported that nearly 30 student protesters went to the front of the auditorium on campus chanting “Vincent Price get off the stage.”
Price was appointed president of the prestigious university last July.
After taking the stage, the students then changed their chant to, “Whose university? Our university!”
One protester with a megaphone explained to the hundreds of alumni present — including the class of 1968 — that the students were marking the 50th anniversary of the Silent Vigil, a period of eight days following the death of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King. Jr. in early April 1968.
“It has been 50 years since the Silent Vigil, and we are still here organizing, disrupting, hurting and incurring trauma,” the student said. “We are still here.”
His reference to the event brought a smattering of applause, but one member of the audience yelled out, “Enough!” Other comments from the alumni crowd included “get off the stage,” “not the time or place” and “a–holes,” according to The Chronicle campus newspaper.
Others in the audience expressed their disapproval by booing or standing and turning their backs on the protesters, while various students took turns with a megaphone listing their demands.
In addition to demanding more minority and LGBT faculty members, the students called for several other changes, from making Board of Trustee meetings open to standardizing consequences for acts of hate or bias to banning surgery on intersex infants in the Duke Health System.
The Chronicle reported before they got on stage, students had received fliers titled, “Got something to say? Here’s how to get your message heard …” from Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek. The fliers outlined Duke’s policies on protesting.
One bullet point states: “Disruptive picketing, protesting or demonstration on Duke University property or at any place in use for an authorized university purpose is prohibited.”
After approximately 10 minutes into the protest, Sterly Wilder, associate vice president for alumni affairs, announced, in light of the disruption, the event would be canceled. However, the students left five minutes later, and the program continued as planned.
Protester Vinit Parekh, a sophomore from Anaheim, California, explained he and his fellow protesters felt interrupting the event was their best chance to have their issues heard.
“We thought it would be the best opportunity to actually do it during the State of the University address, because a lot students on campus have approached administration. Voices have not been heard,” Parekh said. “To get our voice to be heard, we thought that was the most appropriate time.”
Gary Friedman, a 1983 Duke graduate from New York City, was one audience member who expressed support for the student protesters afterward.
“I think it’s terrific, it’s absolutely terrific,” Friedman said of the demonstration. “It’s what the university is supposed to be. They handled it well. It’s a tribute to Duke that they were allowed to speak. There’s been too much speech suppression on both the left and the right.”
Price told the News & Observer it was his first “megaphone experience.” He added that while he admired the students’ passion, he did not condone them interrupting the alumni event.
“The challenge now in a culture that confuses shouting back and forth with conversation, we just have to find vehicles to have honest discussion and I’m happy to take up any of the issues which the students raise,” he said. “I disagree deeply that this was an appropriate way to handle these issues.”
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.