From Monday, March 28 to Tuesday the 29, 63 University of Dallas students participated in two separate sit-ins in protest of the new flooring in Braniff and Haggar University Center. The leaders of the group declared that they were not leaving until their demands for change were met by administrators.
“We have never seen a student demonstration like this before,” said Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of UD. “It was very unusual but certainly effective. The freedom of speech is a gift from our founding fathers and here at the University of Dallas, we take freedom of speech very seriously, regardless of the absurdity of the request.”
The students involved were led by Michael Wallis, junior politics major and a strong advocate for social justice on campus. “We wanted to make an impact, to show the administration that these changes are not okay without student permission,” he said. “We demanded reform and it took 10 hours, but we finally received it.”
The protest group was split in half. 30 students spread out across Haggar foyer and many held signs that opposed the matte floors. “We want the shine back,” read one. “Never turn back until no matte,” another said.
“I was so disappointed when I saw the matte floors [in Haggar] on my first day back on campus from Rome,” said Jane Ricardo, sophomore Theology major and fall 2021 Romer. “I never thought that UD could hurt me in such a personal way so when Michael began talking about the sit-in at a club meeting, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. This issue is so much more important than anything in the Core, I had to stand up for students’ rights.”
Ricardo explained that she recruited a group of her friends to join the sit-in. “I really had nothing better to do,” said Marissa Lewis, sophomore business major. “The protest was better than class so it was a win-win for me.”
The Braniff group was led by Derek O’Reilly, senior psychology major. His influence on the student body brought students of all classes together, including many freshmen. He cited his position as Student Government president as significant in his agreement to participate.
“The number of students who complained to SG was minimal but we still felt a need for the protest. This is a university rooted in truth and justice, what else upholds those values more than students fighting for what they want,” O’Reilly said, waving his sign in the air. O’Reilly’s sign read “Shine or bust!”
According to Sanford, the administration was made aware of the sit-ins early on Monday morning, as professors with offices in Braniff complained of loud chanting and the Cap Bar delayed opening because of the students in Haggar.
“After a few hours, we realized that the students weren’t going anywhere so we decided to intervene,” Sanford said. “We hoped that a peaceful approach would decrease the risk of the students getting violent.”
When the Sanford delegation arrived, Wallis and O’Reilly were there to meet them. It took three hours of loud discussion, philosophical one-upping and the threat of destruction of the Tower (it wasn’t clear who did the threatening) for a compromise to be reached and, by the end of it, the entire student body was gathered in Haggar foyer to observe the consensus.
Professors were outraged at students skipping classes for such an event. “The absolute audacity of these students,” said Fr. Thomas Esposito. “There are much better reasons to skip class than a protest. I would have hoped that UD students could be more creative in their excuses.”
“We got so much more than we could have hoped for,” said Wallis. “Not only is the shine coming back to Haggar, but Sanford promised to have the fountain reinstalled in the Braniff foyer. It really was a productive day.”
Sanford explained that the fountain was the last resort, but it was the only way to get the students to give up the protest. “It wasn’t my first choice, but if it ends the protest, then that’s all that matters,” he said.
“I hadn’t realized the power of the student body until today,” said Wallis. “I think my next protest will be about the new paper towel dispensers in the bathrooms on campus. There are a lot of students who are really passionate about that so, who knows? Maybe we can make a change there, too.”