Last Friday, more than 50 students at the University of Maine Orono participated in a sit-in on the second floor of Memorial Union, a central hub of student activity on campus. The students were protesting in response to a three-part series published in the Maine Beacon, which revealed that Director of Government and Community Relations for the University of Maine System Samantha Warren had lobbied the state government to exempt students from a recently passed law granting workers paid time off.
“So far it seems that the overall feeling on campus is that students are upset with the current condition of student employment,” wrote Maddy Jackson, a student at the University of Maine, in an email to the Orient. “The news of potential changes that could make that worse are compelling people to action.”
Student-workers have reported negative experiences at work, including being compelled by supervisors to sign waivers giving up their right to a break when working a six-hour shift. Many students are reliant upon their on-campus jobs to cover essential expenses.
The protesting students presented a list of demands, including Warren’s resignation and a redefinition of the job description attached to her current position, a monthly report of the budget breakdown to be distributed to students and more staff members in the counseling center and the Student Accessibility Services.
The protest was organized by Takquan Parks, a fourth-year biochemistry and molecular/cellular biology student and moderator of a popular Facebook page, “Umaine Memes for Drunken Teens,” which he used to advertise the protest.
“I did not make this page with the intent to be political,” Parks wrote in the Facebook group he moderates. “But recently the news that the university system’s Director of Communication and Government Affairs … has ACTIVELY worked against the interest of students has moved me to no longer stay silent and passively stand aside. With the great privilege I have of having the eyes and ears of a large part of the student body I am using my influence to bring this to your attention.”
Parks told the campus’s student newspaper, The Maine Campus, that the demands originally only included Warren’s resignation but have now broadened to reflect a larger array of challenges faced by students and student-workers.