Students walk out of convocation in support of Staff Union strike
Students left Bender Arena as Burwell spoke
Students walked out of convocation on Friday as University Provost Peter Starr introduced President Sylvia Burwell to the crowd, in solidarity with the American University Staff Union strike.
The strike, which began on Monday, has disrupted first-year move-in and convocation, as staff, students and community members have protested outside residence halls and the President’s Building.
When freshmen arrived at Bender Arena, security checked AU IDs as they entered. Thursday evening, Starr sent an email to AU faculty asking that they not attend convocation in person.
During convocation, which began at 9 a.m. Friday, hundreds of new students gathered in Bender Arena to hear administrators such as Burwell address them. As administrators walked in before the start of the event, some students booed. When Provost Peter Starr began to introduce Burwell for her address, students began to yell in protest and boo as her name and title were mentioned. Some students got up and exited the arena.
"We respect the rights of our community members to strike and to voice their opinions. As President Burwell said in her Convocation remarks, these situations are examples of how important it is to not only have passion, but also to listen to all sides, consider the facts, and think through impacts. We all agree on that our people – our students, our faculty, and our staff -- make our community unique and strong. That is why American University made significant investments in our people with increased compensation and financial aid in our most recent budget and protected our people during the economic upheaval caused by COVID," Vice President of Communication Matthew Bennett said in an email to The Eagle.
As students exited the arena, they were met with strikers from the union in the tunnel. Students chanted “pay your staff” while joining the staff in blocking the tunnel.
“I feel like it’s my responsibility as a student to support my advisors and the people who advocate for me when they are wanting a fair contract,” said Mary Burnes, a freshman who walked out of convocation.
"Convocation was fully conducted today, including remarks from President Burwell, the student body president, the scholar-teacher of the year, and our traditional bag pipes. Yes, some students did leave during the program but the event was not disrupted," Bennett said.
Bennett said that bargaining is continuing today in a virtual meeting, and that while working on scheduling, the bargaining team suggested to the union to meet Friday to discuss the contracts for both the adjunct faculty and the staff union. He said AU is eager to reach a fair resolution on contracts with both groups.
Strikers embraced in hugs and tears as students showed their support.
“To see my co-workers get so emotional and students get so triumphant, coming out and standing up for us,” said Nicole Martinez, a Washington College of Law career counselor. “It’s an incredible feeling and an incredible sight,”
Editor's note: This story has been updated and corrected with a statement from the University. A previous version of this story contained a statement that was not in line with The Eagle's ethical standards for publication.