ROGERS PARK — Loyola students and Catholic leaders united early Monday morning to speak out against the accusations of "bullying and harassment" and potential punishment that the university's entire student government faces after a private contractor complained students bullied him during a November protest.
The leaders spoke before the students' disciplinary hearing Monday. That hearing stemmed from when students joined Aramark dining hall workers in a November protest for higher wages, better immigrant protections and for more workers to be eligible for health care.
"There's a contradiction going on here," said Michael Fasullo, former president of the university's student government. He resigned after school officials said he could face discipline due to the protest.
"The university taught me through their mission that stated the mission is service of humanity through learning, justice and faith ... but that mission doesn't apply" when workers attempt to unionize, he said.
Alongside Fasullo Monday were his fellow accused students — Lilian Osborne, Melinda Bunnage and Sofia Sturling — who have been dubbed the "Loyola Four."
The students were also joined by Chicago clergy, such as Father Larry Dowling, who called the November protest "passionate and energizing," and Rev. Claire Marich.
Alumna Mary Kay Devine and ARISE Chicago worker Luke Sullivan also joined the group, with Sullivan handing over a letter signed by 50 Chicago clergy members demanding the university drop all accusations immediately.
Devine, who said she donates to the school every year, told DNAinfo Chicago that if the university doesn’t dismiss the accusations, she will “prayerfully reconsider ever making a contribution ever again to Loyola University."
The students echoed Devine's sentiment when speaking about their motivations for attending Loyola, including its mission to serve and pursue social justice — a part of the mission they said has been absent from current discussions and allegations.
"I immediately sort of laughed to myself about [harassment/bullying accusations] because that's exactly what the workers experience every single day at the workplace," Sturling said.
Lilian Osborne (l.) and Melinda Bunnage (r.) speak to the media Monday morning about their role in a November protest, for which they are now facing possible probation or suspension. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Osborne, a senior at Loyola who has been organizing at the school since her freshman year, said she's afraid the university could set a dangerous precedent by administering formal punishment to the students, arguing it would discourage future social justice-oriented students from attending, while also leading to a "shortage of students to stand up with workers and put their own academic reputations on the line."
On Nov. 20, students joined the Aramark dining hall workers for an outdoor protest, but at the end of the protest, Fasullo and 40 to 60 other students convened, without dining hall workers, at the office of the Aramark manager inside the school, Fasullo said, where they again "peacefully" rallied and called for change.
Aramark is a private contractor that provides services to institutions like schools and prisons. The company made headlines in Chicago last year when its janitorial contract with Chicago Public Schools reportedly went millions of dollars over budget.
Students and dining hall workers joined for a protest in November to call for higher wages, better benefits and more protections for immigrant workers. [Provided/Joe Straitiff]
Bunnage said student efforts to join dining hall workers in action began last spring when she and others began having secret coffee shop meetings where they talked with Aramark workers about the difficulties they faced as low-wage workers with limited insurance.
Knowing the workers would face contract negotiations in the fall, students kicked up their efforts when they heard Aramark was only willing to offer workers a 25-cent raise.
"This is like social justice 101," Bunnage said.
Kristin Trehearne Lane, a spokeswoman for Loyola, said protesters weren't in trouble for demonstrating, but because "it’s been reported that a group of students entered the Damen Student Center dining hall and disrupted operations and targeted and harassed a member of the University community."
Lane said the students in the Aramark protest violated aspects of the university's “Disruptive and Disorderly Conduct” and “Harassment and Bullying” policies, whereas Mizzou solidarity protesters had been accused of breaking the university's "Demonstration and Fixed Exhibit Policy."
The "Loyola Four" confidently head into an administrative hearing Monday morning. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Fasullo said he didn't see it that way.
"To target students really is targeting the base of the worker justice movement on campus, and it's essentially a multi-million dollar company suing students to protect their profit," Fasullo told DNAinfo Chicago last week.
Sturling said she felt the university's use of "bullying" undermined the serious problem that bullying actually is.
"I know people who have been bullied and harassed in their lives and this was not that," Sturling said.
The accusations against protesters come on the heels of another Loyola demonstration that resulted in fallout with the University.
On Nov. 12 — only a week before the Aramark protest — four other students who had organized a rally in solidarity with racial protests at the University of Missouri were accused of failing to register and reserve a location for the protest. The accusations were rescinded shortly thereafter.
On Dec. 8, interim President John P. Pelissero released a statement saying he'd put a moratorium on four sections of the demonstration policy while he and other administrators reviewed its content and made recommendations for improvement.
Despite those changes, Lane said the students violated rules still left on the books regarding protesting, and will get a chance to rebut University allegations at Monday's hearing.
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