With demands met, students end sit-in
After more than 48 hours, a sit-in at the LBJ Student Center on the Texas State University campus ended after the administration met protesters’ demands and the activists voted, 41-18, to end their occupation of the building. Student Body Vice President Connor Clegg will face an impeachment trial at a special joint meeting of the Student Government Senate and House on Monday at 7 p.m. Other changes, including the establishment of an African American Studies minor, an expansion of diversity in the core curriculum, the establishment of a campus climate task force and the hiring of an immigration attorney to serve students, will be made to meet the protesters’ demands.
The sit-in began after enough Student Government senators were absent to scuttle Clegg’s impeachment trial Wednesday evening. With nearly half of the senators absent from the joint meeting of the house and senate to hold the trial, the legislature did not meet the two-thirds quorum needed. Student Body Vice President Jackie Merritt adjourned the meeting and protesters took the microphone and began occupying the teaching theater on the fourth floor of the LBJ Student Center. The next morning, the sit-in moved to the teaching theater lobby so that classes could take place in the theater.
On Thursday, Texas State University President Denise Trauth and other members of the administration held a town hall meeting to hear student grievances, and though the activists had decided overall not to attend, saying they had been to enough meetings and they want concrete action, they did send representatives to list their demands.
“Your hearts and voices are imperative to this university and to us and we disassociate ourselves with the actions of Connor Clegg.”
- Jackie Merritt
Also on Thursday, the Graduate House of Representatives issued a statement about the failed impeachment trial noting that the joint session did not have to be disbanded and those present could have taken emergency action. “The Senate Chairperson and Senate Parliamentarian refused to acknowledge this opportunity and to discuss it with the members present. We were hopeful for a joint session in which the house and the senate could resolve the ongoing issued revolving around current student body president, Connor Clegg, and are disappointed this did not happen,” the statement reads in part.
A group of nine senators also issued a statement calling for Clegg’s resignation and the resignation of Senators Ben Bartlett, Ana Flores, Jiselle Martinez, Madison Mcdonald, Karishma Patel, Matthew Barzilla, Stormi Rodriguez and Adrian Cooper.
“These senators are currently elected/ appointed to a two-year position and will return unless removed from office,” the statement reads in part. “These are not the only senators who failed the students by their lack of attendance, these are just the ones that will still have a position of power over students in the upcoming year. As a united front, we demand holding these individuals accountable for their actions.”
Student Body Vice President and Senate Pro-Tempore Skyler Loosmore issued a joint statement on Friday about Clegg and the impeachment crisis: “The actions conveyed by Student Body President Connor Clegg have denoted racial tensions on campus, and are not aligned with the core values of Texas State University. This has caused division, and a culture of distrust, and resistance within Student Government, and the student body at Texas State, which is something that needs to be and will be rectified. We would like to communicate that our hearts are with you, and that we stand with the students who have raised their voice against injustice during such a tumultuous time.”
The statement further reads, “It is imperative that we resolve the corruption of Texas State Student Government and seek to set the students, and the next administration, up for success. Your hearts and voices are imperative to this university and to us and we disassociate ourselves with the actions of Connor Clegg.”
Parking garage standoff
After Trauth’s town hall meeting on Thursday, a group of students followed Merritt and Barzilla, who was one of the senators absent Wednesday evening, “attempting to speak with elected representatives of the Texas State University student government” and hoping “to receive answers regarding the misrepresentation of students that has occurred over the past few years,” according to a statement from the student activists. The incident led to a brief standoff in the Matthews Street parking garage between student protesters and University Police officers who were escorting Merritt and Barzilla.
“The two representatives were being escorted by campus police. No violence was committed until Officer Adam Rodriguez grabbed one of the students, after the two representatives had already been escorted from the parking garage,” the statement from the protesters reads. “Another student used their body to protect this student from being arrested. A third student was also accosted by the same officer, and the same student who had protected the first moved to protect that student as well.”
Video from the standoff shows a student chanting “No, no,” and standing in front of the UPD vehicle transporting Merritt and Barzilla and an officer grabbing him to move him out of the way. The video shows another student falling to the ground and crying but it is not immediately clear from the video if that student was confronted or manhandled by a UPD officer.
UPD gave the following statement on the incident: “On Thursday, April 12, University Police attempted to transport two individuals from the Matthews Street Garage in a patrol car when a crowd blocked the vehicle. Officers repeatedly requested that the crowd allow them to pass, but the crowd refused to cooperate. Officers physically restrained one individual, and the patrol car was able to depart. The incident remains under investigation.”
Trauth sends an email
On Friday, in response to student demands, Trauth sent an email to university students, faculty and staff outlining steps the administration is taking and criticizing the senators who failed to show up for Clegg’s impeachment hearing.
“Many members of our university community, including myself, find this non-attendance wrong, as it undermines the integrity of our student government processes,” the email reads in part.
Trauth then wrote about the town hall meeting held Thursday, stating, “It was clear that the majority of students in attendance were asking for Connor Clegg’s removal, but they also asked for information related to the university’s progress on a number of initiatives moving us in a more inclusive direction. I offer these details as a way of both informing our university community and as a way of publicly committing to seeing them implemented.”
She then said that Dean of Students Margarita Arellano will meet with Student Government leaders to discuss holding government members accountable and that Arellano will form a task force of students, faculty and staff members to review Student Government operations and find ways to improve them. Trauth also said the university is in the process of hiring an immigration attorney who will be available to students later this summer, and in the meantime the administration has identified several immigration attorneys offering free services to students. Trauth’s email also stated that Texas State will start a Latina/o Studies minor in Fall 2018 and is developing an African American Studies minor that is expected to be approved for Fall 2019.
Trauth’s email also said the Office of the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs has started an internal search to fill the newly-created position of Special Assistant to the Provost for Inclusion and Diversity, and that the university’s Campus Climate Survey conducted last fall will “guide the development and implementation of plans to ensure a safe, diverse, and inclusive campus climate and community for our students.”
“I welcome all members of the university community to continue to provide your feedback on these and other initiatives,” the email concluded. “I will continue to update the campus community as we make additional progress toward our shared values.”
The students respond
At a press conference held Friday afternoon – and scheduled before Trauth’s email went out – student activists Tafari Robertson and Cassidy Wright expressed their opinions about the email.
“We are unsatisfied,” Robertson said. “... She sent this email I assume to persuade us to end the sit-in, but it was not good enough. She is still not listening to students, and we’re still not having our issues being addressed and more importantly not being taken seriously.”
The task force that Trauth mentioned is not the task force the students asked for in their demands, Wright said, noting that the establishment of the task force has no published timeline or transparency. Wright said the hiring of the immigration attorney and the offering of African American Studies and Latina/o Studies also do not have a published timeline, just target dates.
“As a collective, I think we were very clear in our demands,” Wright said. “... We want a published timeline.”
As far as the campus climate surveys, Wright said, “We don’t know who’s evaluating the survey, and once again it lacks transparency and there is no published timeline.”
Wright also said that the internal search for the special assistant to the provost for inclusion and diversity was not satisfactory.
“Usually internal search means you already have somebody in mind,” Wright said, noting that the candidate would likely be a tenured faculty member. “This is a problem. … We want to be involved.”
Robertson concluded the press conference by issuing a deadline for Trauth to meet with the students to discuss the protesters’ demands.
“We do not find this sufficient to end our sit-in,” he said. “Since it has been made clear that we are not being taken seriously and they don’t think they actually have to address what we have spoken on … we are now demanding that President Trauth meet with us before 5 or else we will have a very fun weekend here in the LBJ Student Center.”
Addressing Trauth directly, Robertson said, “You have until 5 p.m. to get in touch with us. You know where you can find us. We are interested in working together with you to make sure we can end this amicably.”
Trauth was out of town on Friday, but one of the student protesters said the provost would be arriving to talk with students. After what the University Star reported was a three-hour meeting, Provost Gene Bourgeois tweeted, “More detailed information to be published next week about development of the African American Studies minor, which is proposed to start Fall 2019.” He also tweeted, “I will be following up on diversity and inclusion issues by exploring the expansion of courses to be offered in our core curriculum.” Vice President of Student Affairs Joanne Smith tweeted, “Results of the Campus Climate Survey will be used to inform the development of a Campus Climate Task Force and more specific information will be forthcoming in the next week.” She also tweeted, “The detailed timeline regarding the hiring of an Attorney for Students with immigration expertise will be forthcoming in the next week.”
After discussing the administration’s response, sit-in participants held a vote on whether to end the protest. By the time the sit-in ended, participants had held a poetry slam, created a zine illustrating incidents of racism on campus, and created change at Texas State University.