Part 4: ‘Tent City’

Reilly Reynolds looks at the list of signatures while Aletta Doran and Cajsa Ohlsson talk behind her.
Reilly Reynolds looks at the list of signatures while Aletta Doran and Cajsa Ohlsson talk behind her.

While it may have been the most noticeable part of the overall protest to the trustees, the stand of solidarity was only one part of the events.

They began at 7:30 that morning, setting up tents on the lawn between the Corns building and Beeghly library; and they slept there Thursday and Friday nights before taking them down Saturday after the Trustees left.

“I think (camping out overnight) makes a bigger impact,” Hughes said. She said that they weren’t sure they’d be able to sleep there overnight and considered staying there during the day, leaving at night, and coming back the next day at first.

Amstadt said she got the idea to sleep out in tents while reading old yearbooks in the library one night and read about a similar event aimed at persuading the trustees to divest funds from business operating in South Africa due to apartheid in the 1980s.

“Students did the same thing and students successfully won over the university so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again.”

– Karli Amstadt

She added that she hoped the tents would show the trustees their strength in numbers.

“We’re hoping a lot of people will turn out, and I think it shows what a priority it is, that we have the commitment to put this whole protest together and stay out overnight,” Amstadt said. “I think that shows a lot of commitment to the issue and shows that’s it’s top on the students’ priority list.”

Related: “Change is possible through inspired, united action.”

Senior Erika Kazi, E&W president  and Tree House resident, also said that students at other colleges had held similar events to put pressure on their administrations to create a sustainability coordinator position.

“The schools always respond really well, but the other schools have implemented full-time staff members,” she said.

Kazi and Amstadt started planning the event in the spring and then Hughes got involved during the summer.

“The idea started floating around last spring, but we decided that the timing wasn’t right,” Amstadt said. “So we tried to approach the issue by being more cooperative with the administration back then, but after those efforts seem to have failed and sustainability continues to be on the backburner, we decided it’s time to take more direct action.”

President Jones said that he was “impressed” by the students’ initiative and their positive expression of their convictions.

“Our students are passionate and committed to important causes that matter to them and that matter to our campus and to the larger world…We need more civil dialogue about issues that matter greatly, and our students have offered a wonderful example of how to initiate such civil dialogue. I commend the leaders of this effort and all who participated in it.”

– Rock Jones

The ‘tent city’ aspect of the protest also attracted attention from trustees and students, as many came over to find out what was going on.

Thomas Tritton, ‘69, an at-large trustee and Vice Chair of the Board, was one of those trustees who came over to learn more, as was former trustee Kathy Comer.

Comer said she’d been unfamiliar with the issue, having missed the trustee’s May meeting, but thought the campout was a good start.

“Homecoming weekend and Trustee weekend is a great time to do it,” she said.

Tritton spoke to the students and said that “sustainability is an issue on a lot of college campuses, even for prospective students visiting (there).”

The Princeton Review’s 2012 survey on college admissions found that 62 percent of prospective students considered a school’s environmental commitment to some degree in their decision to apply; this finding was the basis of the protesters’ ‘62 percent’ sign.

In addition to and during their camp out, the protesters also gathered signatures on a petition in support of a permanent sustainability coordinator.

“(The petition) was a great idea to show that we have a lot of student interest in this even though we might not have as many (students camping out),” Hughes said.

They began circulating the petition two weeks before the demonstration began and gathered 300 signatures in the first 24 hours, according to Kazi.

By the time they presented the petition to President Jones outside the camp around 4 p.m. Thursday they had more than 900 signatures, just under half the student population.

Trustee Andres Duarte signs the petition.
Trustee Andres Duarte signs the petition.

Not all signers were students, though – life trustee Andres Duarte, ‘65, signed the petition after visiting the tents and talking to protesters.

Amstadt said before ‘Tent City’ began that their goal was to get 1,000 signatures but she didn’t know if they’d meet it.

When asked afterward if the petitioning worked well, Hughes replied “yes and no.”

“I think it would’ve gone better if we had had more time, but we got over 900 signatures in 2 weeks, so I’d say it was pretty well circulated.”

They will have time to gather more signatures, though – after reviewing the petition Thursday, President Jones returned it for them to continue circulating and gathering more support.

Freshman Miranda Wilde signed the petition in Welch as members of the protest went door to door seeking signatures.

She said she hadn’t heard about the petition beforehand but decided to sign because she liked the steps that Kinghorn had put in place and wanted them to continue.

Next: ‘Bandage on the Situation’


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