UMass Student Movement


 

Something was up—that
was the word around campus. Returning from winter
break at the end of January, the talk was of some
kind of student protest that would wake people
up. At least one dean had warned his charges to
be prepared for Teaching Assistant work stoppages
as the Grad Employees Organization entered it
ninth month without a contract. The Black Student
Union and other ALANA organizations were
increasingly frustrated by the
administration’s inattention to the issue of
university accessibility to people of
disadvantaged backgrounds—a five-year-old
ALANA (an umbrella organization for Africans,
Latinos, <W0>A<D>sians, and Native
Americans) agreement seemed forgotten. The
Undergraduate Employees Organization was gearing
up to fight privatization plans. The Graduate
Student Senate was angered by systemic university
discrimination against non-European international
students. One student was making waves by
protesting racial harassment at the campus store.
Student parents were sick of fighting for
adequate and affordable childcare programs.
Various other factions all had their issues, but
their efforts didn’t seem to amount to more
than a few drops in a bucket.

 

Monday

On Monday, March 3, the
bucket was overturned. Using a small 10:00 AM
ALANA rally as a diversionary tactic, groups of
two or three "scouts" slowly trickled
into the Goodell Administrative Building until
they had flooded the university’s
controller’s office. The 150 plus students
let it be known that they were intent on staying
until their demands were met.

The occupation was not that
of a small radical faction, but was comprised of
a cross-section of students from all class,
social, ethnic, and geographic backgrounds,
spearheaded by ALANA. As word spread, people from
groups all over campus entered the Goodell
Building. Many joined the occupation on the spot.
A number of Amherst College students came early
and two would end up staying for the duration.
Students from Mt. Holyoke, Hampshire, and Smith
Colleges joined the throngs rallying outside
Goodell.

After securing the
Controller’s Office, a pre-arranged call was
made to a student ally working in the Dean’s
Office who submitted the occupiers’ list of
demands. Representatives from the Administration
reluctantly came to the Goodell Building at 1:00
PM and organizers began a week-long process of
negotiations.

Inside the Goodell
Building, bosses told their workers to shut down
their computers and stay at their desks. There
was undeniable tension between the occupying
students and Goodell workers. After all, many of
the spur-of-the-moment joiners had little chance
for forethought and few had any experience with
civil disobedience. The workers were seeing their
space invaded without warning. Some students had
to be reminded that many of the workers knew what
it was like to face discrimination and that some
had children and salaries that were inadequate to
pay for UMass childcare. First year student
Monique DeLoaz said many of the Goodell staff
were upset by the disruption, but "very many
knew exactly where we were coming from." By
the afternoon the number of occupying students
had swelled to over 200, but some degree of
mutual respect had been established before the
workers went home in the late afternoon. The
workers would not see their desks for a week.
Students were in control.

Carlos Iturrios, a freshman
microbiology major, wrote of his spontaneous
participation that Monday afternoon: "I was
on my way to class when I passed the Goodell
building and saw what was happening. I knew what
the protest was about and right there and then I
decided to sacrifice my classes and the
conveniences of home to be with my fellow
students and protest the Administration and
Whitmore. The negotiations had started and all
hopes were high."

 

Tuesday

The number of students
inside the building leveled off at somewhere
between 175 and 200. Roughly two-thirds of these
were ALANA-affiliated and the other third varied
widely. Some were international students, others
were born and raised in town, some were
working-class first generation students, while
some came from privileged upper-class
backgrounds, but with a social conscious.

Tuesday was a day of
organizing within the building as the students
built solidarity and affirmed their resolve to
stay, however long it took. A few waverers left,
fearing that they could not afford to miss exams.
Most, however, became more committed. Police were
controlling entrances; students leaving could not
come back.

Chances for outside contact
were decreasing as the Administration cut off
most telephones. Student demands had to be made
public, food had to be brought in, support groups
had to be coordinated in the larger scheme of
things, while at the individual level, people
queued for short calls at a pay phone to ask a
roommate or partner to bring notebooks, pillows,
and to get extensions on papers and excuses for
tests.

Outside, students were
putting up signs in support. By 4:30 PM a large
rally was under way and the manager of the campus
radio station was broadcasting via cell phone
from inside. Students, faculty, campus workers,
and community members were delivering food, and
campus organizations were passing the hat to buy
bedding for the occupiers, as word spread in the
community. Some students were buying blankets and
pillows in a local store when the cashier asked
what they needed all these things for. When they
told her, she began scanning with a little less
care and many items never made it on the register
tape.

 

Wednesday

Some occupying students
reported that the initial euphoria was wearing
off. The police took up more strategic positions
and the building was sealed off. A number of
police vans appeared and many feared arrests were
coming. Negotiations were long and difficult.

Students outside helped
insiders through the day by appearing in numbers
beyond anyone’s expectations. A smaller
morning rally ended up filling the plaza, until
the central walkway became standing room only. As
classes let out, hordes of students swept through
academic buildings exhorting the complacent to
come to the rally and "really learn
something about life." Occupiers saw more
than 1,500 students demonstrating in support at
peak times during the day. Fresh injections of
support came periodically as other students in
the Five College area arrived by bus and van. At
the microphone, some explained what was going on
in detail, others sang; some led cheers, others
jeered the chancellor who was vacationing in
Cancun; some read lists of classes that were
being cancelled.

At midnight, the Goodell
Building still blazed with activity as the
students continued to strategize and talked of
the implications of their actions. Many have
since cited these times as the most educative
thus far in their academic careers. Biology major
Lenny Kaledzi wrote about the occupation:
"Even though it has not been easy, I can
honestly say that this experience has educated me
in so many ways about myself, others, and about
life itself."

 

Thursday

Support was growing and the
story had become national news. Because ALANA
students comprised the majority of the occupiers,
the mass media treated the story as being
completely a "minority student
protest," to the chagrin of many
participants, but the fact that the story was
getting out was heartening. UMass administrators
were not looking good and they knew it. The
Administration’s negotiators were slow to
come back to negotiations, not returning to
Goodell until that evening. Anthropology major
Njeri Thelwell, part of the negotiating team,
said, "It was a slow realization that we had
what we were going to get, the university was
coming to our terms…It was then a matter of
teaching them our language, of making them
realize they were with us, that was the
struggle."

Carlos Iturrios wrote:
"We are winning the battle but the war
isn’t over. We still have strong support and
the administration is breaking down. They now
have realized that we are serious and will not be
fucked with. We are at peace with the cops and
everything has gone peacefully. Everybody has
gotten together in close unity."

Monique DeLoaz recounts
that she was coming down with a bad cold. The
police, while restricting access to the building,
were helping the students in small ways, for
example, bringing Monique cough medicine. One
supporter joked, "If the cops are this
sympathetic to the cause, the administration must
be in deep shit."

The weather was wild with
sun, wind, and snow squalls alternating
intermittently. Mostly it was cold. Nonetheless,
student support equaled Wednesday’s rallies
and massive "campus tours" began. The
first march invaded Whitmore, the main
administrative building of campus. Again the
Administration was taken by surprise and was
unable lock the building as 1,000 voices shouted
and sang through its hallways. Even though the
chancellor was still in Mexico (one cynic said he
was joining the Zapatistas), his staff managed to
lock his doors, so a 1,000 person sit-in was not
to be.

Community support continued
to grow, with restaurants and grocery stores
donating more food than the occupiers could eat.
Some food deliveries were redirected to the
students sleeping in the more than two dozen
tents outside the building while other donations
were diverted to a local food pantry.

Most occupiers were
involved in all-night long small group processes
in which negotiators tried to explain what they
perceived as gains in the negotiations to the
rest of the group. Heated, emotional debates
raged on about the meaning of administrative
double-speak, what came to be called
"bureau-bonics."

 

Friday

An Administration
representative in the UMass News office said that
they were 95 percent in agreement and apparently
lied to the press, saying that the students would
come out that morning. Local media reported this
and a number of organizations cancelled plans for
a noon rally.

Administrative intrigue or
not, agreement was close at hand. Students were
beginning to imagine what it would feel like to
take a shower again. Some tried to concentrate on
their studies, but it was difficult to
concentrate. Some took the time to write
testimonies to explain why they had given up
their freedom for five days and were still
resolved to stay as long as necessary. Senior
Anthropology major, Jennifer Doe, wrote: "I
am here for my dad. My mother is an alcoholic and
addict who I have not have not spoken with in ten
years. Yet her family is proud, for her family
has never seen one of its own graduate high
school. My father has only recently come home
from a federal prison; April 15 will be the fifth
anniversary of his homecoming. He has six
children, the rest younger than me, who will
graduate high school. My father is trying hard to
make up to us the lost time. He works 60-80 hours
a week to support us, and barely has the time to
see us. Yet he is proud of me. I am supporting
myself through this college and am also trying to
send money home to my family so that they can
have the nice things that I did not have when I
was young and my father was in prison. I work
40-60 hours a week to keep fed and housed. In the
summer I work 100 hours a week, three jobs, to
pay for my education. I had to sell my
grandmothers engagement ring and her
mother’s necklace to pay for school. It is
frustrating to look around and see people in the
same situation as I, struggling to get out of
this poverty. I want to see my brothers and
sister go through school and learn and climb. I
am scared that they will have to struggle as I
have and not have that jewelry to sell. But they
have me now to fight for them. The people in here
are fighting for them, as I am fighting for the
people in here."

Believing their occupation
was close to winning, sophomore English major,
Khernchrist Lacoste, reflected: "I sit here
and ponder with thoughts of frustration and
devastation, politically and mentally. I am the
son of a single mother, the brother of two
aspiring young Haitian-Americans, and the bastard
son of a boy in a man’s body. I constantly
have thought of my mother through this whole
ordeal, and she [has been] the only positive
thing that kept me pushing and fighting the
bureaucracy."

Administration negotiators
again came late in the day with many of the
negotiated agreements written. The student
negotiating team and the Administration had
reached amicable agreements and these included an
amnesty agreement for the occupiers such that
they would not be prosecuted or discriminated
against for their participation in the takeover.

The next task was to find
consensus with around 175 tired and irritable
students. The negotiating committee began
presenting their agreement to the rest of the
students at about 11:00 PM. Some of the
negotiating team argued that they would risk
arrest if they held out much longer and risked
losing their hard-fought gains. Other students
were dissatisfied and felt more could be won by
holding out against the Administration’s
threats of arrest because the obviously swelling
movement outside was strengthening their position
as occupiers. However, the majority were
reasonably satisfied.

 

Saturday

At 10:00 AM the negotiating
team was checking some agreements for wording and
going to the table for another attempt to secure
something besides another useless administrative
"task force" on childcare issues. While
word had gotten out that the students were to
walk out at 11 and a crowd gathered outside the
building to greet them, the controversy regarding
childcare demands held things up. Many of the
occupiers’ demands reflected those currently
on the table between the administration and the
Grad Employees Organization (GEO) and the
Administration had said it was illegal to bargain
in this forum for that reason (of course, later
GEO would be told by the duplicitous
Administration that it could not bargain for
childcare because the Goodell occupiers had been
negotiating for it). Dissent split the ranks, as
some were angered by this "mistake,"
others were angered by what was perceived as a
fold on childcare issues.

Still, a remarkable display
of unity greeted returning administration
negotiators. While the Goodell occupation did not
mark a momentous victory for advocates of
affordable childcare, the show of solidarity
behind the issue proved that the occupation was
only a beginning in the fight.

Because of the delays and
the general fatigue, the students did not leave
the building until 2:30 PM. Most had spent 125
hours inside, but they emerged to a joyous crowd
outside. Some occupiers were dancing, some
raising their fists in the air, some hugging
everyone in sight, while others were crying or
blinking like they’d been lost in a cave for
the past few days.

 

Aftermath

Since the Goodell
occupation, many have found the UMass, Amherst
campus to be a more enlightened and purposeful
place. Alliances forged over the week have
remained and solidified. The Administration had
made an agreement with a much smaller group of
ALANA protesters in 1992 and that was allowed to
slip. In 1997, with almost every student group
that ever gave a thought to social justice in the
Five College area involved, the movement has
taken on a life of its own. Activism has become
infectious, as students found that they have
sustaining power in themselves and in each other.
ALANA students and their myriad of allies are
determined that 1997 agreements will be
implemented.

A sign greeting students as
they have come back to school after spring break
read, "The Goodell occupation is over, but
we still occupy this campus!"
            

Dickie Wallace is a
graduate student and graduate employee in the
Anthropology Department at UMass, Amherst.