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Art students protest Wey Hall working conditions

Ashton Woodruff
A peaceful protest for the advocacy of students’ safety in Wey Hall assembles on the main strip of Sanford Mall on March 28.

Hundreds of students gathered in front of the Aspire art sculpture on Sanford Mall Thursday to protest App State’s decisions regarding the university’s art community.

This protest comes after a smaller-scale protest on Monday outside the B.B. Dougherty Administration Building, which had around 40 students in attendance. 

That event laid the groundwork for Thursday’s protest, with the protest boasting seven different speakers, hundreds of student attendees across multiple departments and a brief appearance from the interim chair for the Department of Art, Joshua White.

Senior art students and advocates take turns sharing their frustrations surrounding the conditions at Wey Hall and the administration’s responses on March 28. (Ashton Woodruff)

The protest started at noon, with students circling the steps leading to the Plemmons Student Union, many wielding signs directly addressing Chancellor Sheri Everts with messages such as “Sheri Everts: Speak Up or Step Down,” “This is NOT the education we paid for” and several expletives directed toward Everts.

Several students gave speeches about their feelings regarding the Wey Hall construction, including Sandra Eaton, a senior studio art student working toward her BFA who served as the primary organizer for the protest; Izzy Stoneback, a senior studio art major also working toward a BFA degree; and Abby Silvers, a senior English major and SGA representative who shared a message on behalf of a transfer student who wished to remain anonymous.

“The situation regarding the construction of Wey Hall has been unacceptable and beyond frustrating,” Silvers said on behalf of the transfer student. “If we knew things would be like this, many prospective students may have reconsidered their choice of college education.”

Multiple speakers listed several safety hazards students have experienced while working in Wey Hall during its construction, including but not limited to jackhammering, drilling, consistent loud banging noises, limited access to drinking water and concrete falling into offices

Similar concerns were voiced about East Hall, where several art department classes have been relocated due to the construction. 

Some speakers at the protest highlighted the lack of accessibility options for disabled students, specifically those in wheelchairs, who are unable to access certain classes in East Hall due to the lack of elevators in the building. 

While much frustration was directed toward Everts and the upper levels of the App State administration, the protesting art students also took time to call out the Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts, Shannon Campbell.

Students’ signs express their frustration and annoyance surrounding the communication between the administration and the construction situation at Wey Hall on March 28. (Ashton Woodruff)

“When I talked to her about our issues, she said that she didn’t know about how bad the situation was until last Wednesday and that this could be a ‘teachable moment’ for the university when they renovate Peacock,” Stoneback said during her speech. “Let me say this: I am not a teachable moment, my friends and colleagues aren’t teachable moments and the art department at Appalachian State University is not a teachable moment.”

Students within the art department have been adamant about their problems with how the administration has handled Wey Hall construction, which began in January 2023

This growing outrage came to a head on March 21, with a petition titled “JUSTICE FOR APP STATE ART STUDENTS – THIS IS NOT THE EDUCATION WE PAID FOR.” The petition has gained just over 2,000 signatures as of March 30, with the petition gaining over 1,200 signatures over the past week, largely due to Monday and Thursday’s protests. Another petition created in May 2023 has gained nearly 1,300 signatures as of March 30.

App State released an email statement an hour after the protest ended, where they said “the university supports and upholds the First Amendment freedoms of speech and assembly,” while also stating that they plan to close Wey Hall completely at the end of the semester, with plans to reopen the building in Summer 2025 when the construction is scheduled to be finished. The university is currently looking into options for where to host art classes next fall, according to their statement.

Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs J. J. Brown released an additional statement via email regarding the closure of the free expression tunnels and the subsequent student backlash, another talking point during the protest. 

The statement outlined the vice chancellor’s plan to work with SGA to create a “Free Expression Space Working Group to discuss the needs expressed at last night’s student forum held by SGA, and to help determine the best way to meet those needs.” This statement was sent out eight minutes before Thursday’s protest was set to begin.

“We cannot express with words how happy we are about the turnout for today’s protest,” Eaton said. “From here we really want to get more eyes on this story. We’re trying to get statewide coverage of this issue, even emailing state politicians to get them involved. We hope that our next protest will be bigger, better and get more of a response from the university.”

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About the Contributors
Thomas Turner, Reporter
Thomas Turner (He/Him/His) is a 19 year old junior at App State, majoring in journalism with a minor in English. This is his second semester working with The Appalachian.
Ashton Woodruff, Photo Editor
Ashton Woodruff (she/her) is a junior IDS Criminal Justice/Photojournalism major, and a Social Work minor. This is her second year with The Appalachian.
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