On Tuesday afternoon, the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation held an 18-student sit-in outside of President C. L. Max Nikias’ office at Bovard Auditorium in protest to the university’s business relations with JanSport, an apparel brand whose parent company, the VF Corporation, SCALE claims has been directly linked to the deaths of numerous workers in factory collapses.
SCALE launched its campaign in consistency with a national movement by United Students Against Sweatshops after the Rana Plaza factory collapse in April 2013, which was one of the largest industrial disasters in the history of the garment industry.
Participants of the sit-in entered Bovard at approximately 3:30 p.m. and were locked out of President Nikias’ office, sitting in the hallway near the office doors. The students remained within Bovard for three hours until 6:30 p.m when they filed out of the hallway chanting, “Whose university? Our university.”
SCALE members inside did not reach a resolution with administration, claiming that USC officials refused to speak with the students and did not allow them to use a restroom.
“[USC administration] made it clear [they didn’t want to negotiate] by leaving the room and did not return for three hours; they instead decided to wait us out by refusing to allow students to access a restroom,” said one SCALE member to those outside. “When I spoke with someone from DPS, they told me they weren’t sure bathrooms were a health and safety right that we were entitled to.”
SCALE members Lorelei Christie and Julia Wang told the Daily Trojan that during the sit-in, students were threatened with phone calls to parents, revoking of financial aid and suspension.
“[USC administration] did exactly what they’ve been doing to us in the past eight months, which is threaten us and ignore us,” Christie said. “Administration came down and issued a bunch of threats [to] take away our scholarships, suspend us, call our parents.”
During the sit-in, Wang said that Dr. Ainsley Carry, the vice provost of student affairs, had contacted the students directly with the threats.
In an email to the Daily Trojan, Carry clarified that the students were notified they would be suspended if they continued to “disrupt university business,” but no official suspensions were given.
“No letters of interim suspension were handed out … the students were informed that if they chose to continue to disrupt university business with loud protests inside the building or by staying inside the building after the hours of operation that they would be given a letter of interim suspension,” Carry wrote.
Carry also noted that if a student were to be suspended, they “would likely face the loss of any university scholarships.”
The vice provost went on to mention that USC does not work with vendors whose apparel is produced within Bangladesh.
“The standards and requirements of USC licensed vendors are among the most stringent in higher education,” Carry wrote. “USC has a long history of making dedicated efforts to help ensure that USC-branded merchandise is manufactured under safe and fair working conditions. No USC licensed vendor is producing USC merchandise in Bangladesh … We will continue to require that all licensees producing products for USC manufacture those items only in factories that ensure safe working conditions for their workers.”
During the sit-in, SCALE members held an additional protest outside of Bovard, circling near the front gates chanting slogans such as “USC you can’t keep hiding, we the students are united” and “Hey Nikias prove your creed, don’t give into corporate greed.”
“United we have the power, we have the skill, to bend their will,” said Faiz Jaspar Abu-Jaber, a junior majoring in neuroscience. “We will not take no for an answer until the contract with JanSport has been destroyed.”
Seven DPS cars were parked outside of Bovard by the time the protest began, and DPS officers surrounded the entrance to Nikias office, not permitting access to any students. Additionally, many of the administrators working inside left the building at that time.
DPS Deputy Chief David Carlisle noted that officers were not previously notified of the SCALE protest, and said upon arrival, they kept a steady presence while student affairs talked with SCALE representatives.
“We monitored the situation while Student Affairs dealt with the student representatives from [SCALE] and there was no unfortunate action necessary,“ Carlisle said. “I have to defer to Student Affairs about if there were violations of university policies on campus for failing to move out of Bovard Auditorium.”
Throughout the protest, SCALE members outside Bovard stood up and explained their reasoning for the organization’s presence. Liz Fernandez was one of those members, and beckoned USC to hear the organizations pleas.
“[The SCALE members inside Bovard have] been threatened with suspension and they’ve been told that USC won’t speak to them,” Fernandez said. “To us that’s unacceptable, we’re your students, why won’t you hear our voices?”
Fellow member Ryan Hauck reiterated Fernandez’s sentiments, asserting that administration cannot ignore the organization’s presence.
“Human life is more valuable than however much money [the university] is saving,” Hauck said. “We are here to tell USC you can’t ignore the students without the students coming to you … our voice will never be silenced.”
Following the sit-in, SCALE members declared that they will continue their campaign to end USC relations with JanSport, and hopefully reach a resolution with university administration.
“All we can say is we will be back,” Christie said. “I think we showed them were willing to do whatever it takes to win this campaign.”