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Why Duke University students are calling for college administrators to be fired

Protesters at Duke University have joined the growing ranks of student activists striving to call attention to issues of inequality on campuses across the United States.

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    Michael Schoenfeld, Duke University's vice president for public affairs and government relations, attempts to answer reporters' questions as protesters demand that an executive vice president be fired for his treatment of a traffic control officer.
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The Duke University president’s continuing efforts to end a sit-in outside his office in Durham, N.C., comes amid a snowballing number of student protests on issues of race and inequality around the United States.

Duke President Richard Brodhead met with demonstrators Sunday inside the building that houses his office as they demanded the dismissal of three top-level administrators, including one for an alleged racial slur against a parking attendant.

Student protesters were initially told that they would face criminal charges or academic sanctions if they failed to disband by Sunday. But, as is becoming colleges' more frequent approach, Duke later softened its stance. Late Sunday night, the university issued a statement revoking its warning "in order to facilitate productive dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution."

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The Duke students, including nine who had been camped inside the building since last Friday, are indicative of a broader nationwide reawakening of student activism on campuses. These protests are often calls for greater equality, especially on issues of race.

College campuses have always been active forums for students to engage in social activism, but the increased participation seen in recent years points to a growing frustration with society and college administrators, bolstered by a rise in the number of opportunities for activism and an increase in positive attention given to such protests, Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, director of CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University in Medford, Mass., told the Monitor’s Stacy Teicher Khadaroo earlier this year.

As movements like Black Lives Matter gain greater traction and media recognition, student activists have been emboldened to take on college administrations with allegations of racism. These movements are on a scale not seen since the height of the civil rights movements in the 1960s, the Monitor’s Harry Bruinius and Jessica Mendoza wrote last month.

On Monday, Princeton University opened an exhibit seeking to cast its former president in a more balanced light, acknowledging that he harbored racist views alongside his frequently-lauded progressivism.

Among the three administrators the Duke students are demanding be fired is Duke's Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III. The students' complaints about Mr. Trask stem from an accusation from parking attendant Shelvia Underwood, who last month filed a lawsuit accusing him of directing racist comments toward her two years ago.

Trask has denied making any racial comment. He has said Ms. Underwood refused to let him park in his usual spot and stepped in front of his car, causing him to unintentionally hit her

Campus police investigated Underwood's allegations at the time, but she "chose not to pursue her police complaint," Duke said in a statement.

The university's Office of Institutional Equity separately investigated Underwood's allegation of a racial comment, but the investigation "did not produce sufficient evidence to confirm the allegations," according to a statement from the office.

Demonstrators were also demanding that Duke raise the minimum wage for all campus workers to $15.

Duke's current minimum wage is $12 an hour, compared to a federal and North Carolina minimum of $7.50.

This report contains material from the Associated Press. 

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