Eight members of the Georgetown Solidarity Committee are planning to remain in University President John J. DeGioia’s suite of offices overnight to continue their sit-in calling for the university to cut its licensing contract with Nike.
The eight students from the workers’ rights advocacy group will face disciplinary sanctions for remaining in the suite overnight, which violates the Code of Student Conduct’s guidelines with regard to disruption of university function as well as failure to comply with a university official or law enforcement officer.
Georgetown University Police Department Chief Jay Gruber established three ground rules for the students remaining in the suite: no additional people will be allowed inside; there will be a one in, one out policy for bathroom access; and no additional sleeping materials or packages will be allowed inside.
The students remaining in the suite, who have been there since 9:45 a.m., are also not allowed to receive supplies, including food or blankets and pillows, overnight. Students involved in the sit-in in the foyer outside DeGioia’s suite, which began after a rally in Dahlgren Quadrangle at about 12 p.m., had food delivered to them throughout the day.
Students participating in a sit-in in the foyer are planning to remain there until Healy Hall closes at 2 a.m. tomorrow and plan to return at 6 a.m.
Nine demonstrators voluntarily left the suite at about 8:30 p.m. before staying in the foyer with the rest of the about 20 demonstrators. Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson warned the demonstrators in the suite they would face disciplinary sanctions if they remained in the office overnight.
According to a letter Olson distributed to the students remaining in the suite overnight, the students must refer to the Office of Student Conduct for disruption of university function and failure to comply with a university official or law enforcement officer. The students had been asked to leave the suite after a meeting with Chief of Staff Joe Ferrara and Olson at 6 p.m., during which they also informed students it would be unlikely for any developments to occur in the negotiations with Nike before tomorrow morning.
GSC member Sophie Bauerschmidt Sweeney (COL ’17), who is one of the eight students remaining in the suite, said the potential consequences of a violation to the code of conduct are minor in comparison to the conditions Nike factory workers face. Potential sanctioning recommendations include housing probation, fines, sanction work hours and case-by-case discipline, according to the Code of Student Conduct website.
“For me what it really comes down to is thinking of the fact that thousands of workers walked out of a factory in a country where it’s illegal to organize and they did that under penalty of death,” Bauerschmidt Sweeney said in an interview with The Hoya. “And in comparison to that, a conduct violation is really minimal.”
GSC member Dan Zager (COL ’18), who is one of the nine students who left DeGioia’s office, said in an interview with The Hoya that Georgetown should have prevented students from having to stay in the suite overnight.
“The university should be embarrassed that they’re going to leave students in there overnight because they’re mistreating their workers overseas,” Zager said.
GSC member Vincent DeLaurentis (SFS ’17), who spent the sit-in in the foyer addressing fellow protesters with updates from inside the president’s suite, said Georgetown’s sanctioning does not align with the standards it has set for Nike.
“They’re charging students with failure to comply with an officer but Nike won’t comply with international human rights standards,” DeLaurentis said.
Olson told the demonstrators they would be asked to leave the president’s suite after meeting with Ferrara and Olson at about 6:45 p.m.
The licensing contract with Nike is set to expire Dec. 31, and is one of two between the company and Georgetown regarding Nike’s use of Georgetown’s logo. The second contract pertains to the athletic department’s use of Nike products for its athletes. Nike remains the only university-licensed vendor that has not signed Georgetown’s Code of Conduct for University Licensees, which specifies standards of labor, wages, safety and health.
Students in GSC and other student organizations, including at Cornell University and the University of Washington, have called attention to human rights abuses in Nike factories following the strike of thousands of employees at a Nike factory in Hansae, Vietnam, in November 2015.
The Worker Rights Consortium said in a Nov. 17, 2015 memo to member universities, including Georgetown, that Nike had denied it access to the Hansae factory.
GSC has called for the university to stop allowing Nike to remain a licensing partner without signing the code of conduct, and is demanding that the contract not be renewed.
Ferrara told demonstrators in the foyer that the university has been working with Nike on obtaining an agreement that ensures the Worker Rights Coalition, an independent factory monitoring agency that investigates Georgetown’s partnered companies, can inspect the Hansae factory and issue independent reports.
“We are working this as hard as we can in terms of getting an agreement. We think if we can get to an agreement where we have WRC access is what’s best for the workers,” Ferrara said.
GSC member Isabelle Teare (COL ’18), who is also a member of the Licensing Oversight Committee said she and LOC member Lily Ryan (COL ’18) were unable to participate in an LOC meeting today because they were unwilling to leave the sit-in. The LOC advises the university on its licensing contracts.
According to Teare, members of the LOC are normally able to call in to meetings chaired by Director of Business Policy and Planning J. Callahan Watson.
“It was Joe Ferrara and Cal Watson who said we could leave and return. However, that kind of defeats the point of a sit-in if you leave the sit-in,” Teare said in an interview with The Hoya. “And so what we tried to do was figure out a way to Skype in to the call or just conference in, and they just stopped responding and would not get back to us.”
Teare said she and other LOC members were informed of the meeting yesterday evening.
“It’s pretty insulting when you spent your whole year working on this issue trying to talk about it, deal with it, and then you aren’t allowed to contribute to the most important meeting of the school year,” Teare said.
Senior Director for Strategic Communications Rachel Pugh said students were given the opportunity to participate in the meeting.
“Students were notified of the meeting yesterday and assured again today they could attend the LOC meeting which was down the hall in the same building and return to their protest location after. Students chose not to attend,” Pugh wrote in an email to The Hoya.
About 50 members of the Georgetown community also rallied in Dahlgren Quadrangle at 11:45 a.m., before staging the sit-in in the foyer outside DeGioia’s suite. Ferrara and Olson both engaged with the protesters throughout the day.
The sit-in comes after GSC delivered a letter to DeGioia’s office Tuesday that the university cut its contract with Nike by the close of business hours Wednesday.
The members are willing to continue the sit-in until DeGioia takes action, according to DeLaurentis.
“They’re going to stay as long as it takes,” DeLaurentis said. “You need to ask President DeGioia how long they’re going to stay there because he needs to cut the contract before we leave.”
The students taking part in the sit-in in DeGioia’s suite were prevented from using the bathroom for the first two hours of the protest as they were denied permission to re-enter the suite, according to Zager.
Ferrara has not responded to requests for comment as of 11:55 p.m.
The demonstrators placed a banner outside Healy Hall stating “Occupied until DeGioia cuts Nike.” Students gathered on the steps of Healy also chanted statements including “Nike and Georgetown sitting in a tree perpetuating slavery.”
Tuesday’s letter delivery and demands from GSC came the same day that WRC released a 113-page report on the conditions of the Hansae factory, to which Nike provided access in October, according to the report. The report says Nike’s agreement to the inspections came after intervention by Georgetown and the University of Washington.
A WRC memo to the university in May in advance of the release of the report alerted Georgetown to the conditions at the Hansae factory.
Students allied with GSC also attended the sit-in to express their solidarity.
Margo Poundstone (SFS ’17), who sat outside DeGioia’s suite for seven hours, said she came to raise awareness for the human rights abuses.
“What happened for me is I have been taking a violence, gender and human rights class all semester and I wanted to take more action on campus,” Poundstone said. “This seemed like very close to home and this is an important issue to me, trying to get people the understand human rights abuses around the world.”
Laura Serbam (COL ’20) said she came to support her friends as they received threats of arrests or disciplinary action.
“I came because one of my friends is in there with GSC and we wanted to come support him,” Serbam said. “When we heard that they might be arrested when the office closed, all of us decided to stay.”
The Georgetown University Student Association said in a statement posted on Facebook on Wednesday night that it supports student efforts to hold Nike accountable.
“We support the students and student athletes in their efforts to advocate for Hoya apparel we can wear with pride, and we support President DeGioia in being a leader in the university community for ensuring our University business practices truly reflect our values,” the statement reads. “Moving forward, we hope the University actively engages our student body in these conversations, especially given the recently released WRC report.”
Kendell Long (COL ’19) said he joined the rally and sit-in in the foyer to support human rights for the factory workers.
“I feel like collective liberation is important for all movements, and so I show up in solidarity and support for other movements fighting for what should be inherent human rights,” Long said. “That’s what I’m here for today.”
Hoya Staff Writer Tara Subramaniam contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the sit-in in the foyer began at 9:45 a.m. The sit-in inside the office began at about 9:45 a.m. while the sit-in in the foyer began at about 12 p.m.