Around 5 p.m. Thursday, six University of Rhode Island students built a snow wall in front of Green Hall to protest classes being held in winter weather conditions that day.
One university and one state police officer respectively forced the students to dig a hole through the wall so that people could safely exit the building. The students left shortly after the officers left the scene.
Green Hall is where both URI President David Dooley and Provost Donald DeHayes’ offices are located. The snow wall spanned the length of the walkway outside the main entrance, and was about three feet tall at its highest. Students used buckets and shovels to pile the snow across the walkway.
Student Senate President Joseph Maynard organized the protest because he and his group were “mad that there was school” because of the worsening weather conditions. Throughout the day, he called both the provost and president to express concerns that the conditions were unsafe for students to commute to campus.
“I’m a commuter myself,” he said. “It took me over an hour to get to school. When I finally got here, I couldn’t park in the Flagg Road lot or Fine Arts lot, so I had to park in Plains. On my way, I saw students walking in the streets because the sidewalks were not cleared.”
The URI officer that arrived first said they needed to take down the wall because the snow would melt and freeze again, causing an unsafe slippery path. He asked Maynard if there was any other kind of peaceful resolution. The officer pointed out, “This makes a statement to the President.”
“That’s all we want to do,” said Maynard. “We just wanted to get a conversation started, sir.”
The students compiled, and shoveled an opening in the wall so people could pass. The officer repeatedly asked the students to keep making the hole bigger. The officer stomped on the edges of the opening, breaking down part of the wall, and said, “I hate to have to do this to you guys.”
He asked one of the students to hand him the shovel, and threatened to call a plow if the student didn’t give it to him. Maynard said the reaction was what the group had expected.
Soon afterward, a state police officer arrived and was irritated that another officer was clearing the snow for the group. He ordered one of the protestors to take the shovel and clear the snow.
“You think we’ve got nothing better to do during the snowstorm than to come here and babysit this?” the state officer said as they cleared the path through the walkway. The officer accused them of making it harder for workers to do their job, and asked what building a wall would do. The students explained that it wasn’t a protest of the snow removal, but of the fact that classes were held in unsafe conditions.
“The point is to show them that it’s dangerous,” Maynard said. “You see a wall, and you say, ‘Oh that’s dangerous.’”
“No, you see a wall, and you say, ‘Oh that’s childish,’” said the state officer.
Maynard was concerned about the University’s priorities when it comes to student safety.
“I had many calls today from other Senate members and friends about students slipping and cars being hit because of today’s conditions,” said Maynard. “The order of importance should be student safety, academics, and then extracurricular activities.”
The officers explained that they may take down the wall later so that snow removal crews could get through, but told the group to call the president and tell them what they had done.
Group members were still happy with the outcome of the peaceful protest, even though it was disbanded so quickly. “If it was so childish, why did they come over here?” one member said. “This was fun.”