A crowd of approximately 100 University of Vermont anti-racism protesters, waving signs, chanting and forming a human chain, caused rush-hour havoc Thursday in Burlington by demonstrating in the middle of Main Street.
Police shut down the busy roadway near the South Prospect Street intersection after students set up a roadblock around 5 p.m. and refused to leave until they met with UVM president Tom Sullivan. Diverted traffic flooded side streets in an effort to get to Interstate 89 after the demonstration began.
Many of those protesting said they stood in solidarity with John Mejia, a UVM staffer who has vowed to refrain from eating until the university and the city of Burlington address a list of nine demands.
The assembled included second-year graduate students from the Higher Education and Student Affairs Administration program who staged a walkout and didn't sit for their final exam.
"Everybody has to sacrifice something in the movement," Doretha Benn said. When asked if she was worried about failing her class and not being able to graduate, Benn said, "I think we should never be penalized for standing up for what we believe in."
As the evening wore on, the students distributed hand warmers, scarves, coffee and food. A handful of UVM staffers also mingled with the students.
Shortly before 8 p.m., UVM's vice provost for student affairs Annie Stevens addressed the protesters. "President Sullivan isn't available tonight," she said to a chorus of jeers and boos from the crowd. "He does want to meet and will reach out to whoever you want him to reach out to."
The announcement ended the road blockade, and vehicle traffic on Main Street resumed. The students then marched their way to the Waterman Building to reconvene. Once inside, organizers pledged to continue with their protest actions until their demands were recognized.
Apart from rush hour traffic delays, @uvmvermont student civil disobedience resolved without incidents or arrests. Students cleaned up and departed. Thank you all for your patience & cooperation. pic.twitter.com/mUEsmbEjdl
Waterman was also the site of a protest Tuesday, when students gathered to decry several racist incidents on campus and urge university administrators to heed Mejia's demands, which include permanently flying a Black Lives Matter flag on campus and increasing funding for anti-racism events.
In response to the latest demonstration, UVM spokesman Enrique Corredera said in a statement that the university "does not condone any activity that can result in serious unintended consequences."
"Taking over a major intersection in the city of Burlington, and impacting the lives of thousands of individuals and families is such an activity," he wrote.
Corredera said that Sullivan "welcomes" a meeting with the organizers and vowed "to continue a dialog with students."
"The university will remain focused on the work it is doing to advance its diversity and inclusion goals, and will continue to speak out against every form of racism, bigotry and injustice on our campus," Corredera's statement read.