The Vassar Student/Labor Dialogue (SLD) recently published a pamphlet, entitled “What Vassar Doesn’t Want You to Know: A Guide to Labor on Campus,” to help discuss the Vassar Administration’s relationship with its campus workers. The pamphlet encourages students to work in solidarity with unions and the workers they represent against administrative measures such as layoffs, wage freezes and violations in union contracts that allegedly mistreat employees. We at The Miscellany News would like to first commend the SLD and their publication for sparking a wave of discussions on campus over the past week regarding labor relations and reflecting an effort among our student population to engage and cooperate with campus workers.
However, as of this writing, the pamphlet currently serves as the only widely available source of information for students on Vassar’s labor policies and practices, as there has yet to be an official response or campus-wide statement regarding the topic by the Administration. This lack of a statement since the pamphlets were distributed on the morning of November 4 is representative of a lack of clear, collective and mutual dialogue taking place between administrators, those with a vested interest in this endeavor and the Vassar Community at large.
We at The Miscellany News therefore believe there must be an attempt at public discourse regarding the issues brought up by the pamphlet, allowing for information to be presented by both sides, as well as questions to be asked by both parties and those members of the Vassar Community who choose to attend. This forum is not meant to promote a polarizing stance of the Administration against members of the SLD, but rather stands as an opportunity to dispel any misinformation that had taken place since dialogues began this year, as well as to help motivate the potential for resolution between the wishes of Administration, workers and the SLD. This forum would also give students the opportunity to be exposed to a number of perspectives surrounding the discussion and give them a chance to draw conclusions from the additional facts and information provided.
It is important for us and the Vassar Community as a whole to acknowledge the complexity of this issue. The Administration’s lack of transparency about its labor policies leaves students with little information to develop a concrete understanding of this topic as it continues to grow more relevant in day-to-day discussions. Many of the arguments made by the SLD come from individual cases or personal experiences selected from employees at Vassar who were comfortable enough to share. Although it is admirable to see workers from Vassar’s two unions, CWA Local 1120 and SEIU Local 200, share their feelings and experiences through the pamphlet, students must remember that every account—whether from a worker, member of administration, or students—will come with its own biases and preconceptions.
This is not to overlook or ignore the legitimacy of the statements made. Instead, we at The Miscellany News simply call for more information about this very important aspect of Vassar life to be presented in a space that does not favor one particular body, and gives those lacking knowledge of the situation to ask their own questions.
An open forum is such a space that would permit a wide range of voices to enter the debate. Workers can speak for themselves; administrators can speak for themselves; students can listen and ask questions. The SLD does not fully represent the voice of every Vassar student, hence we encourage both SLD members and uninvolved students alike to attend and express themselves. Without a space for discussion, students can only rely upon a single source of information, along with rumors and hearsay, to draw their conclusions. At the same time, we feel the town hall meeting President Hill has planned for Monday may or may not adequately serve the needs of a mutual space for all parties, and therefore still feel an open forum should be pursued.
We at The Miscellany News also caution students to avoid speaking for the workers’ issues without also acting out their support for the workers on our campus. Students shouldn’t simply dip into the issue and take the side of workers’ rights when they are unaware of what the workers or administration are negotiating over. Students are here for only four years; many workers and administrators remain here far longer. While we encourage an open forum for students to communicate with workers and the Administration, it is also important that the spaces be also given where workers can share their voice with Administration both with and without us, to allow a mutual opportunity of discourse for both students and the workers we support alike.
Labor relations between the College and its workers are important, but we must not forget the relationship between students and the workers. In bringing up this concern, we must acknowledge that we students have also contributed to this problem. Many of the tasks the workers take on are the result of student neglect and disrespect. The pamphlet mentions the long hours these workers are required to complete, but not how we, through a little common courtesy, can contribute to reducing these hours by being mindful of the messes we make. There are more ways to contribute to worker’s rights on campus beyond speaking in solidarity, and we at The Miscellany News encourage students to consider these methods too.
A culture of mutual respect is one of the many ways that we as students can contribute to doing our part for the workers that make up our campus, and something as simple as putting trash where it belongs, rather than on the floor, could certainly go a long way to expressing solidarity.
Thus, while we commend the students for giving this important issue the attention it deserves, we must also consider its complexity and take note of the ways beyond discourse that we can contribute to facilitating more good for the workers of Vassar College.
—The Staff Editorial represents the opinion of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.