Wittenberg’s campus on the morning of Friday, Feb. 14 was quiet, cold and sunny. Recitation Hall sat amidst the snow, an “I Heart Wittenberg” banner in view at the bottom of the hill, and no hint of the excitement that was to come.
Meanwhile, in Hollenbeck Hall, a group of students and faculty were amassing in the atrium. They were creating signs and printing out papers, preparing for a campus walkout in response to the ongoing dispute about faculty cuts made by Wittenberg’s administration to address the school’s financial crisis.
A week before, Nathan Schwartz (’20) sent out mass emails informing the entire student body of the walkout and urging them to attend to “make our support of the university clear, and deliver a list of requests to this administration.”
About an hour before the walkout, Olivia Riddle (’21) sent an email to students with a list of demands compiled mostly by herself and Schwartz to be made to the president and board of directors.
“Our university is in crisis,” the email read, a sentiment that has been repeated multiple times in the past several months.
At 12 o’clock on the dot, students began to march out of Hollenbeck towards Recitation Hall, loudly chanting “Our Professors Matter.” As they marched, more students joined from around campus, growing to about 60-70 people in size.
At the front steps of Recitation, Riddle stood with a megaphone and read aloud the list of demands.
The list first demanded that the administration and board of directors prioritize addressing systematic injustice on campus, a demand directly influenced by CBS’ lists of demands made to administration last year.
The list then demanded transparency from the president and the board of directors regarding the newly created Academic Programs Futures Committee, and requested equal board, faculty and student representation on the committee, which is confirmed to currently have no student representation.
Transparency was also demanded regarding the budgets for the future Koch Hall renovations and the athletics department and ensuring enough quality course offerings for future students, especially in the English department, which will take heavy losses in faculty.
The list also demanded that the entire Board of Directors return to campus and participate in an open forum, similar to the one held on February 13, to allow students to directly express their concerns about Wittenberg and present their own contributions to the board.
Finally, the list demanded that the Statement on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, “prepared by the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion and adopted by the Wittenberg Board of Directors,” either be amended to indicate that the statement is an aspiration, not a statement about the university’s current reality, or be completely removed from Wittenberg’s home page where it is currently made available.
After the demands were read by Riddle, the group made their way into Recitation and up the stairs to President Frandsen’s office. The president was not present, so the demands were attached to his door, directly echoing the nailing of the 95 Theses to the doors of churches in Wittenberg, Germany.
The protestors then moved out of Recitation, took up their chant again, and gathered in Commencement Hollow to take photos and share a few words before dispersing.
Students voiced their frustration and concern about the situation, but also their gratefulness to one another in their ability to gather together and take action for what they believe in.
Riddle asserted that the protesting students were not under pressure from faculty in their organization of the protest.
“We’re not ignorant of [these] problems,” Riddle said. “The faculty are not feeding us lines.”
“The faculty are the reason we’re here, the value of our education…if anything else…at least those faculty, whose lives are being threatened, will know that we care.”
Riddle also said that the walkout was not the last step that would be taken by the protesting body and that there would be more future action.