Occidental College students who erected a shantytown in protest of the school's South Africa investment policies were prepared for a showdown today with administrators. The college has set a deadline of this afternoon for resolving the confrontation that has developed over the shacks built on campus.
Earlier, the administration had given the students until 5 p.m. Tuesday to dismantle the four wood and cardboard shacks that protesters built a week ago as symbols of how some South African blacks live. The shacks are in the rose garden in front of the Arthur G. Coons Administration Building.
As the Tuesday deadline neared, about 150 students led by a group called the Anti-Apartheid Coalition gathered for a rally at the site on the Eagle Rock campus. Shortly after 5:30 p.m., a coalition member announced that the group had been given a two-day extension to negotiate with administrators.
Phillip Terry, the coalition's president, urged students to refuse to leave the shantytown.
"We think this is a legitimate form of protest, and it should stay up until graduation" on June 14, Terry said as students cheered and applauded.
'Not Going to Back Down'
"This is an educational display. We're trying to show students the way things are in South Africa," he said. "We are not going to back down."
Lee O. Case, vice president of planning and development for Occidental, said the administration has decided to try to settle the matter peacefully. "Obviously, they're trying to provoke a confrontation. We've extended the deadline because we're trying to avoid that," Case said Wednesday.
College officials could not provide an estimate of how much Occidental has invested in companies that do business with South Africa. A committee of students, faculty and administrators has been set up to study whether political and ethical considerations should influence the college's investment policy, Case said.
The shantytown is called "Biko Commons" in honor of Steven Biko, a black leader who died in police custody in 1977.
Students at the rally voted to keep the display until graduation or until the college moves to divest its South Africa-related holdings.
Case said the administrators have yet to decide what action to take if students do not tear down the display. That decision is expected today.
"If the academic process is disturbed, sanctions up to and including suspensions will be imposed," he said.
The shantytown is in the center of the liberal arts college, which has an enrollment of about 1,600. The shacks are made of wood, cardboard and plastic, and spray-painted with divestment messages. Some have blankets for the few students who sleep there at night.