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Editorial: Striking a balance

On Monday, 44 Rhode Island School of Design technicians ended a strike protesting the school’s stance in union contract negotiations, which centered on health care premiums, wage increases and retirement contributions. The strike lasted five days.

The technicians at RISD are vital to the basic functioning of the school. Without their work, students cannot use the machines and shop spaces in RISD studios. That’s exactly why the length of the strike made such a large impact on daily school activities.

Protests and strikes are the right of every university student and faculty member, and as of late, they have become hugely significant in Providence and at universities across the United States. Indeed, the gravity of the issues that have emerged in the past few years has made protests a necessity. Just up the hill from RISD, Brown also boasts a legacy of protests. Encyclopedia Brunoniana states that “Student protests are almost as old as the college itself,” with the first one dating back to 1773. More recently, hundreds of Brown community members participated in an important and long overdue protest against sexual assault — a subject that has embroiled the nation and prompted institutions of higher learning to face and revise longstanding insufficient policies.

The silent march last month to protest what participants saw as the University’s mishandling of recent sexual assault and date-rape drug cases was a clear and effective way of addressing the situation. Members of the student movement Act4RJ organized the protest so that it conflicted with only one class period, so that disturbance was minor. The protesters’ list of demands even reached President Christina Paxson P’19, who endorsed all the demands related to University policy.

Back to RISD, where many normal campus functions were essentially shut down last week, and professors were forced to relocate or postpone classes in order to maintain any sort of schedule. Some students who actively participated in the strike missed multiple class meetings to show their support for the technicians. On Monday, however, 900 students gathered on RISD’s campus after the signing of a new agreement between RISD President Rosanne Somerson P’11 and the representative of the school technicians. Following the signing, the technicians swiftly returned to their work.

Freedom of expression is a part of schooling and should be cultivated in and respected by universities. RISD students were not penalized for attending the rally Monday, and many RISD professors devoted class time to discussing the issue, just as Brown professors have done in regards to the University’s handling of the recent sexual assault and date-rape drug cases.

Because of their pervasiveness and relevance, protests and strikes are a form of education that sometimes should disrupt the rhythm of university life. But they should never last longer than necessary. A RISD student who chose to protest every day of the strike, for example, would have missed almost a week of classes to support a cause he or she believed in and would have been forced to sacrifice other aspects of his or her education. Both the strike at RISD and the silent protest at Brown were meant to improve students’ overall well-being and safety on the respective campuses. Those goals cannot be realized if classes are not being held or if students cannot accomplish their day-to-day activities for an extended period of time.

Students should not have to miss a week of classes in order to support something they believe in. And if they do, the school administration should seriously consider the issue and the protestors’ demands.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Alexander Kaplan ’15 and James Rattner ’15, and its members, Natasha Bluth ’15, Manuel Contreras ’16, Baxter DiFabrizio ’15, Mathias Heller ’15 and Aranshi Kumar ’17. Send comments to


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