Duke University has finally put their foot down after students rejected the administration’s decision to not terminate the school’s executive vice president over a 2014 incident where he allegedly used a racial slur against a university employee.
Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III, who oversees Duke’s finances and administration, allegedly hit university parking attendant Shelvia Underwood with his car in August 2014. The incident, which occurred before a Duke football game, supposedly ended with Trask uttering a racial slur at Underwood, an African-American, before driving off.
After a police investigation,Underwood chose not to pursue charges against Trask. Even though Trask has repeatedly denied both hitting Underwood and using the racial slur, Underwood received an apology letter several weeks after the incident where Trask conceded that he “should have been more patient.”
Despite Underwood’s decision to not pursue charges, a Duke Chronicle report on the incident in March 2016, led to Duke protesters calling for “the immediate termination, without compensation of EVP Tallman Trask III, VP Kyle Cavanaugh, and PTS director Carl DePinto.”
On Friday, April 1, a group of Duke students began a sit-in, threatening to remain in an administrative building on campus until Trask resigned. Although Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek spoke with the protesters to address their concerns, they refused to leave the building at its 8 PM closing time on Friday. On Saturday, the students were told that if they didn’t leave the building by Sunday they’d be removed and charged with trespassing.
Students say they are not leaving until Trask resigns pic.twitter.com/x0SGDdYZLq
— The (Duke) Chronicle (@DukeChronicle) April 1, 2016
On April 2, administrators presented protesters with a response to their demands — choosing to not terminate Trask. Administrators held that they didn’t want to interrupt ongoing litigation between Trask and Underwood, and would reconsider Trask’s employment status after the case settles.
After finding the administration’s response unsatisfactory, the protesters announced that their sit-in would continue.
“While we are pleased that the administration has returned to the table, we believe actions are too vague, non-committal and non-comprehensive to be sufficient for exiting the building,” said protester Danielle Purifoy, who is also a Ph.D. student in environmental policy.
Although the protesters claim that the administration is unwilling to compromise, Duke’s Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Michael Schoenfield claims that the University was willing to negotiate if the students left the building.
“We offered to negotiate if they left the building,” Schoenfeld wrote. “That didn’t happen, so we’re not negotiating and we’re done with demands.”
On Wednesday night, Duke President Richard Brodhead announced his plan to work with an independent expert to review Duke’s grievance and complaint procedures. However, Duke protesters maintain that the administration’s response has been “non-committal and non-comprehensive.” Despite the university announcing their plans to enact procedural changes for addressing employee concerns and a public apology from Trask in March, the protesters seem committed to continuing their fight against the administration.