Storming into the office of John DeGioia, President of Georgetown University, Kory Stuer ’15 and 16 other students executed what would become the culmination of their protest against the school’s licensing agreement with Nike. Lasting 35 hours, the sit-in began last Thursday morning and did not end until the students and administration reached an agreement on the future of Georgetown’s partnership with Nike.
According to Stuer, the licensing agreement between Georgetown and Nike, expiring at the end of this year, states that Nike can license out Georgetown’s logo and manufacture Georgetown apparel. In October 2015, the Workers Rights Consortium discovered that thousands of workers in Nike’s Hansae factory in Vietnam quit their jobs because of an abusive working environment. Workers were found locked in the building, forced to work overtime in a room hotter than 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Nike said that [the workers] were walking off because they hadn’t gotten the bonus pays they wanted, but we found out that that was clearly not true,” said Stuer. “This walkoff is especially meaningful because, in Vietnam, it’s illegal to organize like that, so they walk off under threat of death. That’s how serious these conditions were.”
Since then, numerous Georgetown students, including Stuer, have attempted to cut Georgetown’s contract with Nike. Early November this year, over a hundred members of the community called directly into the president’s office, asking DeGioia to take action. The students also created the social media campaign “Better Barefoot Than Nike,” for which many students chose to walk around barefoot for three days to raise awareness, each day asking a new member of the faculty to join them.
“Since November 2015, [we’ve been] in meetings with the administration, trying to get them to hold Nike accountable and force them to do better, because an important thing to recognize is that Nike is getting worse in terms of its labor practices. It was about bringing things back where it used to be – which was by no means good – but we were trying to make things less bad,” said Stuer. “We did various things trying to demonstrate to the administration that we cared about this both inside meetings with them and outside of that. They really weren’t as receptive to that as we needed them to be.”
According to Stuer, “Occupied until DeGioia cuts Nike” was hung outside of DeGioia’s office window in Healy Hall, overlooking the foyer where a crowd gathered for a solidarity rally at noon in support of the students in the sit-in. Matching Christmas tunes with political lyrics, a hundred students, faculty, and campus workers sang “we wish you would cut the contact” instead of “we wish you a Merry Christmas.”
Diego Blandon ’15, who was present at the protest said: “The protesters elicited a very positive response from the administration regarding the status of the contract. This was definitely a step in the right direction. However, I strongly believe that punishing students for standing against oppression and injustice around the world is antithetical to Georgetown’s values.”
“[They] came and spoke and chanted. I think that while it was very serious, we were also having a certain degree of fun with it and making sure we were keeping our spirits high and that we were in it for the long haul and ready to stay as long as needed,” said Stuer.
A group of nine students left the sit-in Thursday night due to the risk of receiving disciplinary action. Stuer and the remaining seven students were denied access to additional food and water or blankets and pillows by the university as they spent the night in DeGioia’s office. According to Stuer, due to lack of warmth and food, one student became ill and left the protest as well.
“People tried to bring in food and water to us but we were not allowed that, so we were just relying on what we came in with. They had blocked [other people] off from us and we had begun to run out of food, but we were willing to stay there as long as it took. If that meant that we ran out of food, that meant that we ran out of food. Because while we were concerned about our health, we were more concerned about the health of the thousands of workers in Vietnam because something that I know [is that] we, all of us, were [more concerned about] the commitment to these workers. It wasn’t about us; it was about them,” said Stuer.
Finally, on Friday night, the remaining seven students walked out of DeGioia’s office with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes after hearing that Georgetown had agreed not to continue its licensing contract with Nike unless the company gives the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent labor rights monitoring organization, full access to all their factories.
“I felt pretty happy and proud to have been part of this… You can make change. It is about standing up and recognizing that taking direct action has an impact. [Andover] is not a perfect institution and there are changes that should happen… You really can stand up and make a change when you see the need for it. I hope that student activists at Andover, recognizing that, can make those changes happen at Andover as well,” said Stuer.
Students who participated in the sit-in broadcasted their negotiations with the administration, and conducted “news reports,” live from the president’s office through their Facebook page “Georgetown Solidarity Committee.” They used the account to share their beliefs with the greater Georgetown community and outside world.
Malika Dia ’17 agreed with many of the committee’s objectives.
“I found out what happened with [Stuer] mostly through his own social media networks. I really admire him for the progress he has made. One of the major things that I admire about this whole situation is that Georgetown is so incredibly rooted in tradition… I think that it was really cool that [Stuer] was able to maintain those values and was also able to stand up. I think that is really cool and admirable of him,” said Dia.