By Victoria Hosey
Cries of “We have reached our boiling point. Student-workers run this joint,” and “Up with the workers. Down with the bosses,” could be heard on the University of Mississippi campus Wednesday as members of SASI (Students Against Social Injustice) gathered in front of the Lyceum to protest the UM administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement released on Wednesday, the group accused the administration of imperiling the health and lives of students and workers in the interest of making a profit.
“The well-being of this institution is dependent on the very people it has deemed disposable, its students and workers,” the release stated. “We have been denied access to safe conditions and information from those with the power to make the right decisions. The lack of transparency that marked the period leading up to the opening of the school year has now intersected with a catastrophic response in the face of a global pandemic.”
Members of the group referred to the protest as a “die-in” as several students stood or lay in front of the Lyceum holding signs with phrases like “Save our health, not UMiss wealth” and “We won’t die for your dollars.”
The group, which is comprised of around 50 members, also released a list of demands along with Wednesday’s press release. The list addressed a variety of issues such as hazard pay and adequate PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for on-campus student workers.
“We need gloves. We need CA’s to get more than one mask per person,” said Tex Boren, media liaison for SASI. “Reusable masks… you can only use for so long. And that’s not fair. It’s not fair to the workers who are putting their lives on the line, especially in communal dorms.”
According to Boren, the University is also not providing adequate care and resources for students who have been asked to quarantine on campus or who have been asked to leave their dormitories.
“Quarantined students are expected for their whole floor to shut down,” Boren said. “There’s not a reliable way to get them food. The university isn’t putting much effort into helping them and helping them get home. It’s just if you are quarantined and you do not have it, you need to get out. And I’ve seen some girls get told that at 3:00 A.M.”
The group also demanded free, mandatory and bi-weekly COVID-19 testing for all students, faculty and staff at the University. While the University has recently begun offering free asymptomatic testing, those wishing to be tested must receive an email invitation to do so, and participation is not mandatory.
As of Wednesday, the UM COVID-19 dashboard shows there have been 658 confirmed cases of the virus at the university since August. However, Boren said that many students question the reliability of the dashboard and the frequency of COVID-19 testing currently being performed.
“A lot of students don’t really trust the dashboard because of its confusing layout, and the numbers keep fluctuating up and down… without them telling us ‘Hey, this has been resolved,'” Boren said.
SASI member Matuh Abron said that while the number of attendees at Wednesday’s protest was small, there is no shortage of people in the UM community who feel changes need to be made.
“There’s a lot of people who didn’t want to risk coming out in person today, like either obviously because of the virus and also fearing repercussions,” Abron said.
Boren said that while she feels UM Chancellor Glenn Boyce and the IHL have ignored calls for help from students, faculty and staff so far, she hopes that eventually the number of people demanding change will become enough to make them listen.
“There’s already us, and we know for sure people share our viewpoint. Maybe not all of them, and that’s fine,” Boren said. “But I do hope there’s a number that wants change like we do.”