Students protest in President’s office against sweatshop-made UT clothing


Thomas Allison

Members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition prepare to be arrested during a sit-in outside President Powers’ office Wednesday afternoon.

Samuel Liebl

Update 11:39 p.m.: Story updated to reflect that 19 protesters, not all of them students, were part of the protest and were arrested.

Update 7:22 p.m.: The story has been updated to reflect developments and additional edits.

Update 5:24 p.m.: According to UTPD spokeswoman Cindy Posey, "approximately 20" protesters have been arrested.

Update 5:07 p.m.: The University has released a statement about the student protesters in the Main Building. "The university is committed to ensuring acceptable working conditions for everyone who manufactures products that carry our logos," said UT spokesman Gary Susswein.

At 12:30pm 17 students and two non-student members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition entered President Powers' office, room 400 of the Main Building. A UT police department officer attempted to stop some of the protesters from entering the office, but they pushed past him.

Upon entering the office, the students sat down and began setting up laptops to spread information on social media networks and to set up a Livestream feed to broadcast live video of the protest. William Yates, one of the group’s leaders, read a short speech to the office staff present. Yates said the group was living up to the core values of the University by demanding UT’s apparel be produced in conditions that do not violate human rights. A total of five police officers arrived, including the UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom.

Assistant dean of students Mary Mercatoris entered the office and told the group that if they left the office to protest in the lobby, they would be escorted by police to and from the restroom downstairs. After approximately 30 minutes of occupying the President’s office, the UTPD chief told the group that after one more warning the students would be arrested and removed from the office on criminal trespassing charges, he said.

The group decided to leave the office and move into the lobby and did so at approximately 1:00 p.m. Once outside, campus fire marshal Garland Waldrop told the group that the fire code allowed for no more than the 19 present to stand or sit in the lobby.

Once outside, the group were told by Mercatoris that she had misinformed them and that they would not be allowed to use bathrooms without being locked out of the lobby. A police officer then told the protesters that if they urinated or defecated in the lobby, they would be arrested on charges of public indecency.

At about 2:30 p.m. Gary Susswein of the President’s office gave an interview to the Daily Texan. Susswein said the case was closed and that the $50,000 cost of meeting the student’s demand to switch to the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring organization, was too high for the University in a time of budget cuts. When asked whether human rights were worth more than $50,000, Susswein said the Fair Labor Association, the oversight organization that UT is currently a member of, sufficiently protects the rights of workers producing UT apparel.

At 3 p.m. students gathered on the third floor stairwell of the Main Building. They began chanting and could be seen and heard through the stairwell by the activists locked in the lobby. Mercatoris arrived and warned the supporters gathered in the stairwell that they were disrupting office business and that if they continued to be loud that they would be arrested on trespassing charges. Students on the third floor and in the lobby continued to chant at a lower volume and Mercatoris did not threaten them with arrest again.

At 3:15 p.m. activist Jessica Alarenga read in the stairwell Martin Luther King Jr.’s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." Yates then urged the activists gathered on the third floor to call their friends and spread the word. The plan, he said, was to bring more people to protest in front of the tower in case students in the lobby are arrested.

At 4:20 p.m. Dean of Students Soncia Reagins-Lilly arrived and told the activists in the lobby that they would be arrested by UTPD if they stayed in the space after 5 p.m. At 4:30 p.m. protesters began rubbing Vaseline on their wrists in preparation for handcuffs and started to pack up their things. At 4:35 group leader William Yates tells the group to make sure they were wearing UT apparel. By 4:40 almost all of the protesters wear burnt orange.

At 4:45 p.m. the protesters sat in a circle and held hands on the west side of the lobby, near the elevators. Yates reminded the group to not say anything beyond their name and birthdate. At 4:50 p.m. UTPD Chief Robert Dahlstrom and Dean Lilly returned to the lobby.  Dahlstrom told the protesters that they would be arrested if they stayed and offered them a final chance to leave. At 4:53 Dean Lilly told students that they would be referred to Student Judicial Services for punishment that might affect their academic standing at the University.

At 4:48 Chief Dahlstrom again told the protesters that they would be arrested. When the tower rang 5 p.m. UTPD officers began to handcuff the protesters with zip ties. The protesters chanted "What do we want? W-R-C. When do we want it? Now." The officers loaded the protesters into the elevator, which took them to the ground floor. The activists were met with chants of "This is what democracy looks like," from supporters when they exited the elevator. Police took them to a UTPD van parked in Main Building's east loading bay.

At 5:50 the police van drove through a crowd of protesters on the north side of the Tower. The van contained more than half of those arrested. At approximately 6:00 p.m. a second van left with the remainder of the activists with the exception of Adrian Orozco, who remained in the loading bay surrounded by police officers.