Students protest military recruitment at job fair
Disruption sparks discussion on how to demonstrate appropriately
“One, two, three, four, we don’t want your fucking war. Five, six, seven, eight, organize to smash the state” came through the bullhorn. At 3:30 p.m., March 5, 14 students protesting the military recruitment at the annual Career, Internship and Summer Job Fair, assembled in the Lincoln and Skylight rooms.
The demonstration continued on with other chants for about two minutes before staging a sit-in in front of the military’s table. Some students wore costumes, handed out pamphlets entitled “Military Myths and Statistics,” and carried signs, including one that read “Killing for Peace is like Fucking for Virginity.”
Internship Coordinator Terrie Saline, organizer of the job fair, asked the students to leave. When they refused she asked them again and told them she would call security if they did not leave and stop blocking the aisle to the other recruiters at the job fair.
“I felt…I was shocked by the language, the signs. I didn’t care they protested, but I felt it could have been handled in a more professional way,” said Saline. She wanted to know why the demonstrators didn’t just march in and sit down, why they had to use the bullhorn and the inappropriate signs. Saline claims the protesters were chanting, “Fuck no we won’t go!” and they were chanting and spelling out the word F-U-C-K. While they concede that they used the word “fuck,” the protesters deny saying the specific chants Saline reported.
Some of the employers left when the protesters came in and began chanting. The employers asked if this was what was being taught at Knox and why the protesters had been allowed into the room. Some employers agreed that the students had the right to protest, but felt the way they staged it was inappropriate due to the language used.
At the beginning of the sit-in, the students engaged in a heated verbal confrontation where both the students and the military recruiter were using offensive language. Later, the conversation simmered down into an impassioned conversation. Issues brought up by the protesters concerned rape in the military, gay acceptance into the military, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One student asked why the military was needed for the reconstruction efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan and why the United States needed such a militant pursuit, rather than efforts from a more humanitarian practice. She believed the money being spent on the military presence could be better spent on aid. The military recruiter replied that the situation was different there, that a militant security was needed to rebuild.
At this point, Campus Safety Director John Schlaf arrived and asked that the students leave, explaining that when a Knox employee asks them to do something they must comply, or sanctions could be brought against them. While they did not want to leave, the protesters and Schlaf negotiated a plan where one student could stay in the room and pass out pamphlets, and the others remain with their signs in the hallway as long as they did not block access to the job fair. Students who passed through the hallway expressed confusion about why the protesters were standing there; some passing students supported the protesters, while others were embarrassed.
“I was put off the second we walked into Seymour…we were mostly just confused why not in the Seymour gallery [where the military recruiter tables]. Why penalize us?” said Student Senate President Elaine Wilson. “I felt it was intimidating to cross that line,” said Saline.
In the hallway, the students and Schlaf continued to discuss what rights they had as protesters. It seemed that they were allowed to protest as long as they were quiet, respectful, and notified the administration first. Some students felt that Schlaf was talking down to them, and that their rights as protesters were not as important as the rights of other students who may have attended the fair. Not only were the students protesting the military’s actions, they were also protesting the fact that the military were allowed to recruit. Because of the military’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, the protesters believed their presence was violating the school’s discrimination policy. Dean of Students Xavier Romano said that Knox has no policy against the military. If the school found the military’s policy to be discriminatory and in violation of the school’s policy and kicked them out, the school would lose government funding. “We could [disallow recruiting], but we would lose our federal funding,” said Romano. He said that the “value of financial aid” and thus the access of students to the school overrides the desire to reject the military because of its hiring policies.
The job fair was planned to go from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., but by 4:15 p.m. most of the employers had left due to a low turnout of students, and taking offense to the situation. After the protest, Saline apologized for the students’ actions. She apologized to the employers as well as Monmouth College, who co-hosts the event with Knox (recruiters visit Monmouth in the morning and Knox in the afternoon). Additionally President Roger Taylor has sent out formal letters of apology. Saline is still working at mending the relationships with employers and worries that the disruption will affect the Virtual Job Fair held in the near future.
“It’s hard to get recruits to come to Knox…and based on that incident next year, if we have a job fair, it will be a lot of ass kissing,” said Saline.
The following week, some protesters were called in to talk with Romano, Assistant Dean of Students Debbie Southern, Schlaf, and Saline. The students were told they had crossed the line with the way they protested and that the language and disruptive behavior violated the rights of other students who had want to pursue jobs and internships at the fair. Two students lost interviews that were scheduled during the job fair. While the administration believed it was fine to protest, they took issue with how they chose to protest.
“The protesters have the right, but so do the students seeking jobs. How do we balance those competing interests?” said Romano.
“I sympathize [with those students], but it was a protest,” said junior Vicky Daza. “Protest is supposed to be disruption.” She felt it was the employer’s responsibility to reschedule the interview.
The right to protest and how is still a controversial topic on Knox campus. “I feel discourse is really important even if you disagree with the point of view,” said Samir Bakhshi. “In the case of the military, irrespective of what people say, I have a right to protest it.”
While Romano felt the Friday meeting had been candid and evaluative, the students said they felt initially intimidated and that the conversation was “somewhat ridiculous.”
“It was not looked at as a protest, but something wrong. We didn’t act juvenile or with a blank disrespect for anybody, but the authorities think we did,” said sophomore Abraham Diekhans-Mears. “There wasn’t student response [to the accusations] because a lot of people felt awkward or did not speak out. That meeting wasn’t progressive to an overall understanding. We were all very intimidated.” Diekhans-Mears explained that they weren’t allowed to talk about the act against the discrimination policy they were protesting; rather the focus of the conversation was on their actions alone.
“I don’t think anyone felt bad about what we did. He basically told us what we could or could not question about what we did wrong, that those questions are for a higher administration,” said sophomore Annie Zak.
“I kept quiet because there was nothing to say. We could argue where we crossed the line and point fingers, [but] it could have been more productive if we just sat down and talked about it,” said Bakhshi, commenting on how if the conversation had been less hierarchical it could have been more productive.
In the future, the protesters look to be more organized with their demonstrations. “I would go about it in a more organized fashion. Our motives and our actions were correct,” said Diekens-Mears “it was a good test run for other activities.”
“I would have liked to have a better dialogue with the representative of the military,” said Bakhshi. “It’s important not to attack the person, argue with the person, but attack the institution.”
Annie Zak is the assistant mosaic editor for TKS.
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