Rutgers student activists petition Barchi to exonerate disorder charges

<p>As part of its Fight for $15 campaign, members of the Rutgers chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) protested a Board of Trustees meeting last year.&nbsp;</p>

As part of its Fight for $15 campaign, members of the Rutgers chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) protested a Board of Trustees meeting last year. 

Student demonstrators from the Rutgers United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) interrupted University President Robert L. Barchi during the grand opening ceremony of the new Van Nest Hall Friday evening. 

The demonstrators were hoping to get disorderly charges against 12 protesters dropped, stemming from a USAS protest during a Board of Trustees meeting in December 2017. The Daily Targum reported at the time that the 12 students were charged with disorderly conduct by Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) and were protesting for a $15 minimum wage on campus. 

“The organizers hoped to receive a response from Barchi and a promise that he would drop the charges, asking the president to ‘not just cut the ribbon in front of this hall but to cut the rope that binds the hands of student activists on campus,’” according to a USAS press release.

Administrators escorted the demonstrators away from the podium before Barchi addressed the audience, according to the release. 

At the event in December 2017, protesters bypassed a line of police officers and entered Trayes Hall where the Trustees meeting was held, the Targum reported. They came in chanting, “We work, we sweat, put that 15 on our set.”

At that same board meeting, according to the Targum, Barchi announced an increase in the campus minimum wage to $11 — which at the time, he said, was all the University could do. 

Christopher DiStasio, a then-School of Arts and Sciences senior and 1 of the 12 protesters charged, said to the Targum in April, that an $11 minimum wage is not high enough. 

“It’s surprising, because we’re a university that’s built on the concept of being revolutionary and pushing for the greater good, and when I did that … in a peaceful protest at the Board of Trustees meeting, the University pressed charges against me. It’s very hypocritical and I find it also very offensive. Like I don’t do what I do, none of us do what we do out of malice or hate for the University, we do it because we actually love the University and we want the University to do what’s right,” he said.

The organization is accusing RUPD of allegedly harassing students who attended the protest, repeatedly calling, showing up at their living space and following them around campus under the guise of needing to bring them in for questioning, according to the press release.  

USAS, a nationwide labor rights organization, has been running a campaign for a Rutgers $15 minimum wage since November 2016, according to the release. It stated that the minimum cost of living in Middlesex County requires approximately a $15 minimum wage, and Rutgers should allocate less than 1 percent of its $800,000,000 in unrestricted reserves to a raised wage.

Barchi did address the crowd after Friday’s demonstrations.

“I do recognize that I’m at Rutgers because this is Rutgers,” he said, according to the release. “This is what we live with all the time. We are passionately committed to First Amendment rights. We are passionately committed to free speech. This is part of what happens at our University.”

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