July 21, 2017

Student-Worker Alliance protests Trump, Webster administration

In a protest led by the Webster Student-Worker Alliance (SWA), Webster University students and faculty spoke out against the policies of both the Webster University administration and President-elect Donald Trump on Nov. 22.

Students Wes Schnitker and Margarita Solis speak out during the protest on the quad / Photo by Sara Bannoura

Students Wes Schnitker and Margarita Solis speak out during the protest on the quad / Photo by Sara Bannoura

“Trump and Webster both work to crush union efforts and worker’s rights and neither will work to ease the painful student debt crisis, policies from both that we know hurt our black and brown students and workers the most,” said senior history major Wes Schnitker. “This is how Webster and Trump are connected. This is how when we fight Webster, we fight Trump.”

Schnitker led the group of about 40 people on a march from the quad to the intersection of Lockwood Ave. and Big Bend Rd., where they temporarily blocked traffic.

The protest was spurred both by the election of Donald Trump and the news that Webster paid $17,000 to a consulting firm, Greer Consulting, which specializes in persuading employees not to unionize. The SWA is a pro-union group of Webster students and adjunct faculty members.

“Webster students making a difference is really important, because even though we’re a small school, we represent a really big part of the world because Webster is everywhere,” said dance major Nokomis Schultz. “Webster spent such an enormous amount of money trying to prevent adjuncts and faculty from unionizing, which is something I really support.”

Schultz said Webster should have better priorities and focus on spending money on students.

The SWA distributed a petition at the protest with a series of demands for the administration: that faculty should be allowed

Webster Student-Work Alliance members block traffic near campus / Photo by Sara Bannoura

Webster Student-Work Alliance members block traffic near campus / Photo by Sara Bannoura

to unionize, student employees should not have a limit on the number of hours they can work, faculty should receive “a living wage and fair working conditions” and students and faculty should not be penalized for protesting.

Adjunct professor Andrea Miller, who saw her pay cut when she was demoted from a lecturer position, also joined the protest and said it was a demonstration of discontent with the administration’s priorities from both students and employees.

“I want them to look at their budget and make sure that they’re allocating their money towards faculty — especially adjunct faculty, which always teaches the majority of our classes here at Webster,” Miller said.

Another student who participated, dance major Tiana Bojorquez, said she joined the protest because she was excited to have an opportunity to speak out against Trump on campus.

“I remember being at the election party that we had in the UC and being like, ‘dude, why isn’t anyone protesting?’” Bojorquez said. “You’re never too young, too small, too anything to stand up and make a difference.”

The protest was observed by campus public safety and by several administrators, including Dean of Students Ted Hoef and Chief Communications Officer Rick Rockwell.

“The administration is in support of free speech, and any protest that wants to take on national issues like a new presidency,” Rockwell said. “We are supportive of free speech as long as these demonstrations are done, like this one, in a peaceful way.”

Rockwell declined to comment, however, on the university’s hire of Greer Consulting. He said he thought the protest was more about the national mood following Trump’s presidency than issues like adjunct unionization.

Many students at the protest, like graduate student in education Margarita Solis, saw Webster issues as connected to national politics.

“It’s important for us, especially now under this future president, to keep speaking out, and also to reach out to other people who might not agree with us,” Solis said. “If our schools can’t protect us, if they take advantage of us and then we’re under an administration like Trump’s, we’re going to be super vulnerable.”

Solis said rising tuition and attempts to prevent adjuncts from unionizing run counter to Webster’s past of social justice values.  

“It’s like a betrayal of everything that this school was founded on,” Solis said.

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