U police arrest 9 at sit-in

General College supporters staged a sit-in for eight hours at Morrill Hall on Wednesday.

University police arrested nine General College supporters who refused to leave Morrill Hall by 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Those arrested, and approximately 12 others who left before the arrests, staged a sit-in at the University’s administrative building for more than eight hours Wednesday. The protest, organized by the General College Truth Movement, was in reaction to the University’s task force’s recommendations.

Greg Hestness, University police chief and assistant vice president for the Department of Public Safety, said he “begged” the protestors to leave by 6 p.m. They refused but were cooperative with police, he said.

“It went very well,” he said. “It’s unfortunate it came down to (arrests).”

During the arrests, police sprayed mace at two protest supporters in the Church Street Garage. They were trying to see the arrested protesters, they said.

One of the supporters, Mike Wilklow, a political science senior, said police clubbed and kicked him. Several witnesses said they saw it happen.

Minerva Munoz, a Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs graduate student, said that she came into Morrill Hall through the Church Street Garage at approximately 1:45 p.m. with a group of approximately 30 people but was only one of two people able to sneak past police and join the sit-in.

Inside, Munoz said, the protesters were discussing strategy, including who was willing to be arrested. They also were constantly speaking with the police, she said.

“When I got there, (the police) were negotiating whether or not to let the protesters use the bathroom,” she said. Police eventually gave permission, she said.

Officials from General College Truth Movement, a group of University students and community supporters of General College, said the sit-in had two demands.

The group demanded the University keep General College open and have the recommendation process receive University-wide participation.

The group said the University can meet its demands by postponing any decisions until after November.

Odessa Cegers, one of the protesters inside the building and a General College student, said she was protesting because she wouldn’t be able to go to school without the college.

“At this point, we’re backed up against the wall at the point where the door is going to close or ‘merge’ with another college, the College of Education,” Cegers said. “We are taking a stand today, a historical stand, to say that the doors of the General College need to stay open.”

Outside Morrill Hall, several police cars lined the side of the building while students and community leaders gave speeches. For much of the day, General College Truth Movement members and other college supporters chanted, “Save G.C.” and “G.C. is under attack! What do we do? Fight back!” in front of the building.

Between 5 p.m. – when protesters said they believed they would be kicked out of the building – and 6 p.m, the crowd outside Morrill Hall swelled to approximately 100.

The building was on lockdown the entire day.

As protest supporters waited for the police to take action, Isaac Kamola, a political science graduate student, said over a megaphone that closing General College will lock students out of an education.

“This lockdown is a metaphor for where the University is going,” he said.

At the evening rally, several General College students and community leaders spoke, including Minnesota Student Association President-elect Emily Serafy Cox and Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmermann, Ward 6.

“Thank you for being willing to put your bodies on the line to fight for what is just,” said Zimmermann, who said he once participated in an anti-war rally that blocked Washingon Avenue Southeast for days.

American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 members also attended the rally.

Phyllis Walker, president of the local, said union employees will stand in support of General College.

Earlier in the day, Robert Jones, senior vice president for system administration, met with reporters to give his perspective on the sit-in.

Jones said he felt the students’ concerns were misplaced.

“Status quo has made this look like a closing,” he said. “It’s a transformation into an academic department.”

Earlier in the day, Bruininks said an event such as the sit-in will not change his decision-making process about General College.

“No, it’s not going to affect my decision, because I need to make decisions that I think are right for the University,” he said. “But I do respect the rights of people to express their points of view. I think there are better ways to do it.

“They don’t have the right to sit in on a building and disrupt the work of the University.”

J Burger, a Graduate Teaching and Research Assistants Coalition United Electrical Local 1105 organizer, said he was at a Hennepin County detention center after the sit-in to help bail out those who’d been arrested. He and approximately 18 other General College supporters were posting $50 bail for each of the sit-in participants, he said. He said he did not know how long they would be there bailing people out.

“We could be here for an hour; we could be here for four hours, but we’ll be here as long as it takes,” he said.

Michael Horrigan, a third-year student pursuing a bachelor of individualized studies, was arrested in the sit-in. He said he thinks the protesters’ actions made a difference.

“It just shows that other people are willing to sacrifice themselves for current and future generations to have this opportunity,” he said.

Alondra Espejel, a Chicano studies senior and sit-in participant, was arrested while in Bruininks’ office. Officers put plastic wires around the wrists of her and eight other sit-in participants, and took them downstairs to Northrop Garage, she said.

After putting them in two separate vans, she said, officers were not sure how to get out without protesters outdoors noticing the van and trying to stop it. They ended up leaving via Pleasant Street Southeast, but as they left, Chicano studies program associate Jennifer Caron spotted them and started running after the vans. Espejel called it “a beautiful sign.”

“It was really one of the best things that we could have seen on the way out,” she said.

Espejel said that although she was scared when she was arrested, she thinks the protests will ultimately energize the community.

“I think people have just discovered their power, and this is going to escalate to more and more protests and more and more visibility for this issue,” she said.

At approximately 11 p.m. Wednesday, 14 General College supporters were still outside Morrill Hall and said that they planned to stay there throughout the night and through today, when they have an 11 a.m. rally scheduled on Northrop Plaza.

– Kori Koch contributed to this report.