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Wave of Protests Hits Local Colleges

By Shankar Mukherji


Amidst a wave of protests that have hit several Boston area colleges, administrators at Northeastern University and student activists have reached an agreement over the use of sweatshop labor in the production of school-sanctioned merchandise.

The surrender of university officials to the demands of activists marks the first resolution of the many marches, sit-ins, and rallies that have swept local institutions of higher learning.

Students at Northeastern rally

Northeastern officials see another controversy brewing over the future of the John D. O’Bryan African-American Institute (JDOBAAI). The Institute, named after the first African-American vice-president of Northeastern University, has served as the center for the school’s black community since its founding in 1969. Students have occupied the building for the last 24 days to protest its possible razing.

“We are concerned that the construction of the Bahrakis Health Science Center will lead to the African-American Institute being sacrificed,” wrote Northeastern student Malaika Defoe in an e-mail circulated to several leaders of the African-American student community.

“If that were to happen, we the students of the African diaspora would lose our primary source of academic, cultural, personal, and social support on campus,” Defoe wrote.

According to Northeastern officials and sources at the JDOBAAI, “The Institute will either be renovated in its present location and preserved as a free-standing building or it will be relocated into one of four current on-campus location options that have been identified.”

Outgoing Undergraduate Association Council Vice-Chair Zhelinrentice L. Scott ’99 introduced a resolution which supports the protesters rallying against the possible relocation of the African-American Institute.

“Be it enacted ... that [the UA Council] urge Northeastern president Freeland to actively seek student input ... and also encourage him to keep the Institute in its current state; and that [the Council] urge President [Charles M.] Vest to encourage President Freeland the same,” stated the resolution, which passed 10-4-3.

Northeastern University officials will release the official word regarding the fate of the African-American Institute on May 10.

Harvard students protest

In another major demonstration, students at Harvard University demand that the school pay all its employees what it calls a “living wage.”

The sit-in, which is now into its 21st day, has drawn national media attention as well as endorsements from U.S. Senators John Kerry D-Mass. and Edward M. Kennedy D-Mass. as well as AFL-CIO president John Sweeney.

“We’re pretty optimistic,” said Adams Rackes (Harvard ’02). “It looks like there’s some movement. The main thing is the community outpouring [that we’re seeing].”

“Both sides are trying to reach toward a substantive agreement,” said Alex Horowitz (Harvard ’02). “This is definitely important enough to miss class.”

There are currently 30 students occupying Massachusetts Hall, which houses the office of Harvard president Neil L. Rudenstine. Additionally, a tent city has sprung up around the protesters’ base of operations.

“The tents make the protest much more visible,” Horowitz said. “We wanted to make sure that there was a big presence in case the police came and arrested us.”

“There is also a symbolic meaning here as these workers can’t afford housing nearby with the wages they are being paid. It is symbolic of the heavy crisis that poverty is creating,” Horowitz said.

According to Horowitz, the Living Wage Campaign has been been going on for three years. During the campaign, students have held several meetings with the university’s senior administrator’s, dozens of rallies, and have collected over 400 endorsements from faculty, celebrities, and politicians.

“The reclassification of a hundred workers’ wages from $13.00 an hour to $8.00 an hour at Harvard Business School was the last trigger,” Horowitz said. “The sit-in was the last resort and our first major gain was the change in [the Harvard Business School employees’] wages back to $13.00 an hour.”

BU students protest noise

The most recent cause taken up by Boston area students is the issue of noise during final exam reading periods. A group of 300 individuals at Boston University protested the high-decibel levels caused by the inaugural home match of the Boston Breakers. The newly created women’s professional soccer team is paying rent to BU for use of Nickerson Field during the season.

Rob Favuzza, one of the organizers of the protest and president of the west campus residence hall association, wrote a letter to the administration, accusing them of ignoring the needs of students in favor of the revenue-generating sports team.

“Money speaks louder than students at BU, our quiet hours have been sold,'' Favuzza wrote. “The administration fails to see this is hurting their students.”