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Student protest calls for compensation for art students

Junior+studio+art+major+Rachel+Merrit+%28left%29+and+junior+psychology+major+Abigail+Bamber+pose+with+the+signs+they+made+for+the+protest+regarding+safety+conditions+in+Wey+Hall+on+March+22%2C+2023.+
Jenna Guzman
Junior studio art major Rachel Merrit (left) and junior psychology major Abigail Bamber pose with the signs they made for the protest regarding safety conditions in Wey Hall on March 22, 2023.

More than 40 students gathered in front of B.B. Dougherty Administration Building Friday to protest the conditions of Wey Hall and other effects of the building’s construction. 

The protest began at 10 a.m. and lasted about two hours. During the protest, students wrote chalk messages of frustration on the walkway before the front entrance of the administration building. The group stood on the stairs in front of the building, making their signs visible to anyone passing by, in or out of the building. 

Students took turns speaking out against the construction of Wey Hall using one protestor’s microphone. 

They then marched through campus chanting, “Compensation for lack of education,” and “Art students deserve better.” 

Protestors marched through Sanford Mall, through the southern tunnel under Rivers Street and ended at Wey Hall. 

The protest ended with the students regrouping at Sanford Mall. 

Throughout the protest, students shared flyers with a QR code for a petition created on Thursday, which gathered over 860 signatures as of Saturday.

The petition lists examples of how students’ education has been disrupted during the renovation of Wey Hall. 

“THIS IS NOT THE EDUCATION WE PAID FOR,” the petition reads. “We believe students MUST be provided financial compensation.”

A student writes the phrase “PLEASE LISTEN” on the ground with chalk outside of the administration building on March 22, 2024. Since October, students have been expressing their concerns with having classes in the building. (Jenna Guzman)

Students said the protest was organized partly because of the shutdown of classes in Wey Hall Wednesday afternoon, which was announced Thursday in an email by Dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts Shannon Campbell. Classes were stalled until Monday. This announcement came after safety concerns around concrete debris falling onto ceiling tiles of a classroom on the first floor on March 18 and into a faculty member’s office over spring break. 

Campbell sent a follow-up email Saturday and said after safety reviews and meetings with Muter Construction, the contractor hired to renovate the building, Wey Hall will be reopened for classes Monday. 

However, many said the safety concerns in Wey Hall were ultimately the final stroke in a long-winded list of concerns and complaints affected students have. They said the protest was meant to represent all of these concerns. 

“Everyone has been, like, just so frustrated and fed up with the conditions that we’ve been working in and, like, just all the things we’ve been subjected to over the past like year,” said Evelyn Kline, a senior studio art major. 

Kline said she felt overwhelmed to voice her concerns and thinks other students may have felt the same way. 

Leah Moore, a senior art education major, said art students did try to voice complaints about the renovation in October 2023, when the Department of Art hosted a series of talks about the renovation. 

Moore said the students who spoke at the meetings never received a response from the school. 

Many protestors said they felt a lack of communication from the school has contributed to their increased anxiety about working in the building or frustration about being relocated to different buildings. 

“It totally just feels like the school just doesn’t care,” said Bobby Carter, a sophomore studio art major. 

Carter and Moore said they feel the university’s actions lack transparency and there is a need for more campus-wide communication about developments in the construction. 

Carter and Moore both have had their classes relocated from Wey Hall to East Hall as a result of construction. 

Senior studio art major Sandra Eaton created art for the flyer protesters handed out to passersby and posted around campus. The QR code links to the petition. (Courtesy of Sandra Eaton)

They, along with other protestors, feel that the conditions of the workspaces they use in East Hall are subpar. Moore said it is difficult to hold critiques or demonstrations in class because they are split between three to five dorm rooms. 

In Moore’s papermaking class, the students are using two former maintenance rooms and a laundry room as studio space. 

Abby Dent, a senior art education major, helped organize the protest by creating a group chat for students interested in voicing their opinions. 

During their classes in Wey Hall this semester, they experienced numerous things that make them feel unsafe and disrespected by the university, Dent wrote in an email. 

“Our classes are constantly disrupted by loud jackhammering, construction workers walking and moving materials through our studio space during classes, plaster raining down on us from the ceilings, as well as a lack of proper ventilation, no constant access to potable water, and the constant fear for our own safety,” Dent wrote. 

Dent said the things she experienced in Wey Hall are indicative of a lack of planning and communication by the university for this project. 

Campbell wrote that the university would be conducting independent safety reviews and developing an updated safety plan in her Thursday email.

“However, before this, the university ensured us over and over that this was a safe place to work,” Dent wrote. “Surely there was a safety plan previously instated, so how can we trust that the same thing won’t happen again?”

Sandra Eaton, a senior studio art major, said they attended the protest because “after swallowing excuses from our institution, the art students are hungry for justice.” 

Eaton wrote in an email that she felt art students should be compensated for not having access to facilities and workspaces they are paying for and for the disruptions to class time and studio time they have experienced throughout the year. 

Eaton urged administrators and university officials to address the concerns students are raising through protests, petitions and online posts. 

“To the administration, Chancellor Everts, and entire institution of Appalachian State University, please, hear our voices,” Eaton wrote. “We cannot stand idle while the art department faces collapse and demolition. The students of the arts are suffocating.”

Sarah Elizabeth Vann, a junior art and visual culture major, posted a TikTok video Friday talking about the safety concerns she has being a student with classes in Wey Hall and showing photo and video documentation of the construction happening during her class time.

@sarahe.vann

can you tell i didn’t take public speaking #fyp #foryoupage #appalachianstateuniversity #appstate

♬ original sound – Sarah Elizabeth

Her video has amassed over 323,000 views, 50,300 likes and 1,000 comments as of Saturday. 

According to Campbell’s follow-up email Saturday, safety measures that will be put in place in Wey Hall include the halt of all drilling in areas adjacent to occupied spaces, weekly safety reviews and inspections and the removal of all concrete debris from the building. 

“Interim Department Chair Joshua White and I will be in the building when classes begin at 8am Monday, and throughout the day, I’m eager and available to listen and look forward to seeing you soon,” Campbell wrote. 

Also in attendance at the protest was Jeff Cathey, a free speech responsible officer at App State. Cathey said he supported the student’s right to exercise their First Amendment right. 

App State Police and Boone Police officers appeared at the protest.

Students are planning another protest for March 28 at noon on Sanford Mall, according to flyers being shared on social media and around campus.

Para leer en español hace clic aquí.

 

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About the Contributors
Siri Patterson
Siri Patterson, Managing Editor
Siri Patterson (she/her/hers) is a junior journalism major with a minor in political science. This is her second year writing for The Appalachian.
Jenna Guzman
Jenna Guzman, Editor-in-Chief
Jenna Guzman (she/her) is a junior journalism and public relations double major with a media studies minor. This is her third year working for The Appalachian.
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  • F

    Frank BlackMar 27, 2024 at 6:17 pm

    North Carolina colleges are subject to NC OSHA laws & regulations. Unsafe working conditions should be reported to the North Carolina Department of Labor. Please See the NC Department of Labor Website for How to File Complaints. There may also be legal options for students if they are not being provided appropriate classrooms or workspace and/or if materials handling or safety are ongoing issues.

    It is also a good idea for students to read the North Carolina State Constitution and familiarize themselves with the clauses about free public college education.

    Reply