Circumstances surrounding the relocation of Students Against Social Injustice’s “United Students Against Sweatshops” national conference have shifted considerably in the last week.
SASI officers initially planned to host a conference at the Jackson Avenue Center this weekend in coordination with the national group USAS, at which attendees would “build organizing skills, connect with student organizers and workers and support (their) campaign against confederate iconography,” according to SASI.
Student officers originally said the conference was being moved because of disagreements with the University of Mississippi’s “limitations” on the event, but university officials later said SASI officers did not file the proper paperwork in time to adhere to university policies.
In a phone call with The Daily Mississippian on Monday afternoon, SASI secretary Em Gill said the organization had been planning the event since August 2018 and that it was only recently canceled after the university placed “limitations” on the group’s event.
“Two weeks ago, the (university) administration placed some last-minute limitations on our group that would prevent the convention from proceeding as planned,” Gill said.
However, in a phone call late Monday night, SASI president Quay Williams attributed the cancellation and subsequent relocation of their conference to a logistical error.
SASI started advertising their event on the USAS web page in mid-November. However, they never officially registered the event with the university. Additionally, they did not become a registered student organization on campus until February.
Only 69 days until the 22nd USAS National Convention! Join us Feb. 22-23 at the Uni of Mississippi in Oxford to build organizing skills, connect with student organizers and workers, and support our campaign against confederate iconography!
Register here:https://t.co/j3HGEjriBJ pic.twitter.com/P0bYrs2UaA
— UM SASI (@USASI121) December 15, 2018
“We didn’t know all of the logistics that was required to do all of this,” Williams said. “We didn’t know we would have to do all of this paperwork to register through the university.”
SASI’s Twitter account sent out a tweet Monday afternoon that read, “The university placed some last-minute restrictions on our group specifically that would prevent our convention from proceeding as planned. Rather than submit to these, we decided to hold the majority of our programming in Memphis with the support of our local allies there.”
According to Stephen Steenwyk, a SASI member, the “last-minute restrictions” placed on SASI’s event concerned the time, place and manner in which they could congregate.
“We were not allowed to demonstrate for any longer than an hour. We had a very strict route we would have had to follow. We weren’t allowed to raise our voices above a certain point, and we couldn’t leave from the sidewalk,” Steenwyk said. “Any violation of these designated rules would have meant we were at risk of immediate termination of our entire convention, which clearly didn’t seem worth the risk.”
Erica McKinley, chief legal officer and general counsel to the university, disputed SASI’s claims on Tuesday. She said she had neither heard of nor received any documents regarding SASI’s conference until Feb. 1.
“I learned the first time then (Feb. 1) that this convention, a USAS convention, had been advertised sometime late November up until current day,” McKinley said.
McKinley said that although SASI was not yet a registered student organization at the time and had not filed the necessary paperwork to hold an event on campus, she was willing to work with the group to help schedule their conference.
“I’m a reasoned person, so arbitrarily saying ‘no’ because they failed to comply with university policy — while it would have been the right thing to do — I was trying to respond to the realities of where we are. Simply put, somebody dropped the ball,” McKinley said.
McKinley met with Quay Williams, Troy Nethers from USAS, UPD chief Ray Hawkins and event planners from the Jackson Avenue Center to facilitate the scheduling of the event, but the attempts were eventually unsuccessful.
“I explained to them it’s not about their viewpoint. I don’t want to get into their messaging,” McKinley said. “I wanted to talk time, place and manner. And we reached agreements about the time they would be in the Jackson Avenue Center, the time they would be on campus for their walking demonstration. (We discussed), literally, water, coffee or tea and if they needed a laptop or not.”
“We treated USAS no differently than we treated anyone else,” McKinley said.
McKinley said the university offered USAS and SASI a reduced rate for booking their event and agreed to extend deadlines in hopes of going forward with the event.
In an email sent from Nethers to McKinley on Friday, Feb. 15, Nethers informed the university that they would no longer be moving forward with their conference in Oxford.
According to their Twitter page, SASI still plans on holding a protest of “Confederate Glorification” at 3 p.m. Friday in Lamar Hall.
The Daily Mississippian obtained a letter Tuesday morning drafted by three university faculty members calling for the university administration to explain why SASI wasn’t allowed to host their conference on campus.
“We demand clarification as to why the university has made it easier for white supremacists to hold a rally on our campus on their own terms, while making it nearly impossible for our own students to host a national conference centering economic, gender and racial justice,” the letter reads. “The students planning the anti-Confederate march for Feb. 22 are our students. They are guided by our faculty and staff.”
The letter additionally calls for the university to cancel the Confederate rally.
UPD coordinated with leaders from both sides of the protest to ensure elevated law-enforcement presence along the route of the march and in the Circle, according to a statement from Chief Hawkins on Monday, Feb. 18.
“UPD has met with organizers of the groups who are preparing for the marches in an effort to create and maintain a safe environment for all,” read the statement. “In addition, we have shared with leaders of each group the university’s expectations concerning the time, place, and manner of their marches, and university policies addressing conduct and weapons. This includes a list of items prohibited on our campus and university policies regarding weapons.”