On Friday, Nov. 8, students at the University of Maine organized a sit-in to protest the actions of Samantha Warren, the director of government and community relations for the University of Maine System. In a recent three-part series released by The Beacon, it was revealed that Warren had actively been lobbying in the Maine State Government to suppress student worker rights. The report showed that Warren was directly working against bills that would grant workers rights and protections while working for the University of Maine System.
At the protest, more than 50 students showed on the second floor of the Memorial Union to perform a sit-in, with the intent to continue the sit-in until the students’ list of demands were met.
The first demand calls for the immediate resignation of Warren. The second demand requires that UMaine’s Director of Government and Community Relations job description be redefined. The third demand asked that a monthly report system is put in place and distributed to students that would include budget breakdowns. The fourth, a request for implementing office hours for the entire chancellor’s office, consisting of biweekly 1.5-hour office hours, in order for students to air grievances directly with the chancellor’s office. The fifth demand requires that UMaine back efforts that support the welfare of students and workers. The sixth demand asks for UMaine to acknowledge understaffed centers and respond with an increase in staffing, especially in centers such as the counseling center and Student Accessibility Services (SAS). Following demands ask for more dialogue “between the chancellor’s office and students, better enforcement of current rules for student workers, eradication of student labor waivers and the subsequent voiding of current waivers,” and the request for “no legal, academic or employment retaliation from the university for people involved in this protest.”
The protest was organized by members of the student community, including Takquan Parks, a fourth-year biochemistry and molecular/cellular biology student and moderator of the “UMaine Memes for Drunken Teens” Facebook page.
“I worked over the summer, 80 hours a week to pay rent and pay what I owe the school. I currently work as a student researcher and I acknowledge that other students are not in the same position [to get the same hours], but they deserve the same rights,” Parks noted. “When I read the Beacon article, I was furious. I used every contact I had to organize. Originally the only demand was that [Warren] resigned, but I feel like we are going in the right direction with this list of demands.”
Parks was not the only student who was upset about the issue. Assisting Parks with the organization of the protest were Gabriela Reyes-Jusino, a fourth-year anthropology student, MJ Smith, a third-year political science student and Kevin Fitzpatrick, a third-year political science student. All of the organizers either work for UMaine currently, or have in the past.
Some of the students who participated in the protest were concerned with their rights as disabled students on the campus.
Ildiko Sandor, a first-year psychology student, voiced their frustration with the understaffed SAS office. Sandor has a service dog and often needs to speak to SAS about accommodations to be able to pursue higher education. They are also a student worker at the Rainbow Resource Center, which is overseen by the Office for Diversity and Inclusion, a division of UMaine Student Life.
“I’ve worked actual jobs, not jobs with the university, and not been treated like crap, actually valued. It was a shock to work on a campus where I’m not valued, where I’m not respected as a student worker. [The wages now] don’t give students enough resources to pay rent and buy basic necessities,” Sandor said. “[The understaffing] at SAS is huge for me. I use them a lot, and they’re so understaffed I can go in for services and not get an appointment for weeks, and I can’t get help when I need it.”
“[Ultimately] we want better treatment, we want respect, students are looked at as just students and not like we have anything else going on in our lives,” Sandor said. “We’re just trying to live a good life.”
Other students voiced their frustration with Warren’s actions, noting that completing college is already a struggle and the fact that members of the administration are actively lobbying to make it harder for student workers is not keeping with the values of the UMaine community.
“I feel disgusted that a public institution has lobbied against worker rights. Students … make up the backbone of this institution and we are constantly undervalued,” noted Camryn Hammil, a second-year international affairs and political science student. “It seems counterintuitive that … a ‘liberal’ institution would actively work against their workers’ rights.”
The university, in a statement from Kenda Scheele, the associate vice president and senior associate dean for students said “We fully support their right to protest. I like to see students taking a stand for what they believe in.”