On Wednesday afternoon, 60 students representing numerous campus organizations coordinated four sit-ins throughout campus, as well as a rally at Tommy Trojan, in opposition to the university’s continued business relations with the apparel brand JanSport.
The Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, the leading group of the sit-in and protest, claims that JanSport’s parent company, the VF Corporation, is directly linked to the deaths and ill treatment of numerous factory workers in sweatshops in Bangladesh.
At approximately 2:00 p.m., a group of 60 students staged the sit-ins at four locations: Vice President of Admissions and Planning Katharine Harrington’s office at Town & Gown, Vice Provost of Student Affairs Ainsley Carry’s office in the Student Union, the office of the Director of Trademark Licensing and Social Responsibility Matt Curran in University Village and the office of the USC Bookstore Director Dan Archer.
Sarah Newell, a member of SCALE and lead campaign coordinator of Wednesday’s sit-ins, said that the protestors’ presence was meant to demonstrate to administrators that they can no longer ignore their students’ voices.
“[On Wednesday] 60 students from more than 45 groups across campus decided to occupy four different USC offices to let USC know that treating students this way isn’t going to silence us, and they can’t keep us down by treating us like criminals,” Newell said.
Newell was referencing campus administration’s response to an 18-student SCALE sit-in that occurred at Bovard Auditorium on Tuesday, April 15, during which participants were threatened with phone calls to parents, revocation of financial aid and suspension. The sit-in lasted for four hours and ended with no official resolution.
Following Wednesday’s four coordinated sit-ins, which lasted approximately two hours, protestors congregated at Tommy Trojan to rally for their cause and garner the attention of President C.L. Max Nikias, who members claim at the time was having tea with another student organization in the nearby Ronald Tutor Campus Center.
The rally hosted three guest speakers, including Maria Elena Durazo, the general secretary of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations.
“I am proud you are doing this in the name of people in another part of the world,” Durazo said. “You are doing it because you care about anybody, everybody, anywhere — an injustice to someone anywhere is an injustice to everybody everywhere.”
Assistant Professor of Sociology Veronica Terriquez also spoke at the event, acknowledging the protestors’ ability to make a difference through their continued efforts.
“Students have a power to make history,” Terriquez said. “What you’re doing today can really have an impact when you’re working in solidarity with people across the world … Keep up the movement, keep up the fight.”
During the protest, some students also spoke about their experiences from the day’s sit-in. SCALE member Liz Fernandez claimed Harrington made light of the student’s efforts.
“She snapped a couple of pictures [of us] to send to everyone … She told us over and over that our little protest wasn’t going to get us anywhere,” Fernandez said. “To hear an administrator say to me that my voice doesn’t need to be heard is absolutely ridiculous.”
Harrington could not be reached for comment.
SCALE members spoke with the Daily Trojan after the event and mentioned that following the Bovard Auditorium sit-in last week, students outside of the organization have expressed concerns with the university’s actions.
“The results of [last Wednesday’s] sit-in are really what produced this effort here today, because all these students here today — many of whom are not affiliated with SCALE — were so disgusted when they heard about what happened in the office and how we were treated,” said Francesca Bessey, a junior majoring in international relations.
SCALE member Andy Su noted that outside support highlights how far the organization has come.
“Following the sit-in from last week, people have been coming up to me and saying, ‘It’s really messed up what administration did.’ My response is, ‘Yes, they’ve been doing this for the last eight months,’” Su said. “To see the public responding positively and supporting us — we’re really on the brink of change here.”
This is SCALE’s second rally since the Bovard sit-in last week, and campaign coordinator Hannah Nguyen stressed that the organization will continue to act until they are addressed by campus administration.
“Workers’ lives are still on the line every single day, so we’re going to continue fighting on these last weeks of school and onto next year if necessary,” Nguyen said. “But we hope that by the end of the school year, USC will decide to start respecting student voices and the lives of workers.”