Tent City Blues
The following is adapted from Tent City Blues, an open publishing blog that was devoted to discussion and updates regarding this event and related issues.
The tents went up around 5pm. Food not Bombs provided the campers with dinner, while the Student Labor Action Project held a meeting at the campsite. Students from several organizations, including MEChA, UT Watch, Student Labor Action Project, LULAC, and Students for the ACLU, unrolled their sleeping bags, and spent the night under the light and sporadic rain. At midnight the campers held a meeting to discuss what course of action would be taken the next morning.
At roughly 7AM Thursday morning, several UT administrators, as well as several UTPD officers, ordered that the tents be collapsed by 8AM under threat of arrest. No "exhibits" are allowed on the Main Mall, despite its desirable location in terms of traffic, space, and visibility, from 8AM to 5PM. They also insisted that a table the campers had set up to distribute leaflets on tuition and financial aid be moved. Because there were only around fifteen campers, all of the tents were collapsed.
At 11AM the campers held a press conference at which Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), as well as representatives from UT's chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Texas chapter of the ACLU, UT Watch, and the Texas State Employees Union, spoke and gave interviews.
Shortly before 2pm administrators began pestering the campers with institutional rules that forbid banners in all but a few designated spaces. At first, students were reluctant to take down their banner, which was duct-taped to the wall near the steps to the tower, since they felt that they had already made enough compromises. Banner space is so limited as to be impossible to obtain on short notice, and none is available around the Main Mall. A student also refused to identify himself so long as he was to be held solely responsible for refusing to take down the banner. He was later put on disciplinary probation.
At roughly 4pm, and after hours of haggling with administrators and seeking legal advice, the campers chose to comply with the rules by mocking them. They sat on the wall and held the banner in the same place it was previously taped, until they were allowed to set their tents back up at 5pm. Although many of the students were not involved in UT Watch, and the campers negotiated and eventually complied with the administration's request, UT Watch was sanctioned. The group is forbidden from displaying banners on campus, and is currently appealing the decision.
At 6pm Senators Ellis and Tommy Williams (R-The Woodlands) brought the campers a great deal of pizza and soda to show his support. At 8PM a meeting was held, and the campers decided to focus on reaching out to students, rather than haggling with administrators, on the final day of campout.
At 7:45AM, however, they were roused by UT administrators asking for their student ID's. In accordance to a supposed ban on sleeping outside on campus, the administration initiated disciplinary procedures against these students. The anti-sleeping regulations have not been enforced in the past. Habitat for Humanity, for example, held a similar event in front of Gregory Gym earlier that semester without any disciplinary action being taken, and students can be seen napping on the south and main malls on a daily basis.
Ironically, Dean of Students Teresa Brett, whose office is responsible for disciplining the deviant snoozers, once attended a 24-hour vigil around the MLK statue on the East Mall where, eventually, some students fell asleep.
After finding no rule that could be construed to ban sleeping outside on campus, no disciplinary action was taken.
Senator Gonzalo Barrientos (D-Austin) called to express his support that afternoon.