Stand With the Staff: Acting on Our Values

“Si se peude!” was heard echoing across the campus on Friday as students rallied in support of staff in front of Hahn. We rallied to present a united, clear, and bold position that had the greatest likelihood of making an impact on those who hold the power to make changes on campus. We focused our message on trustees and administration, while sending a message of support to staff and inspiring critical student dialogue. As a member of Workers’ Support Committee, I helped plan the rally last Friday. As a group we do not mean to dictate that our actions are the only way that students can support staff. There is no one single way to work toward positive change. As an organization, Workers’ Support Committee works to build not only these individual forms of support, but also a collective support in the form of actions like the rally last Friday. Students levy a great deal of power to make change on campus especially when they are able to organize together.

As students, we take for granted the progress which was fought for by the students who came before us. Student representation on committees including faculty search committees, the ethnic diversification of the student body and faculty, the establishment of Black Studies, Gender and Women’s Studies, Asian American Studies, and Chicano Studies, and the resource centers around campus were not given freely, but demanded by students who wrote petitions, held rallies, and took over Alexander Hall in 1979, 1992, and 2001. Frederick Douglass, who dedicated his life to the struggle for justice said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”

We rallied because we believe the policies of this college devalue staff, engaging in behaviors in direct conflict with the stated values of Pomona. The college stresses the importance of its tight-knit community made up of students, faculty, and staff that collectively provide a nurturing and supportive environment for students to grow personally, socially, and intellectually. The college gates bear the words, “They only are loyal to this college who, departing, bear their added riches in trust for mankind.” As students developing the capacity to think critically about the world around us, we are charged by Pomona to apply this gained insight for the betterment of the world. If we hope to set our eyes on changing the world then we must first learn to see the inequity that is present in our own lives.These intentions, however noble, remain hollow and without substance when workers at this school suffer injuries on the job, have no real power to voice concerns about the workplace, and can be fired at any time for any reason. How can we hope to change the world, which is a very large and overwhelming task, when we cannot see the inequity and injustice that is plainly before our eyes? As students we are fortunate to have a voice and with this power comes a responsibility to call these injustices into question. We must use it thoughtfully to demand that those who are silenced are also given an opportunity to speak. Staff do not have the privilege of a voice. We are fighting for the college to recognize the rights of people whose work keeps the college running and improves our lives as students.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Out of context it might be misconstrued to mean that the universe naturally progresses toward justice. Justice is not simply a characteristic of the universe, but a direct result of the countless thousands who take a stand, act with conviction, and commit themselves to changing its trajectory. In this situation, there is no neutrality. Remaining neutral is the same as giving in to the stronger force, allowing the momentum to maintain the course. Similarly, we must act on our values as a community, an institution, and individuals.

Workers’ Support Committee has members from a wide range of perspectives, but we all share the common conviction that we have to take action. We come to consensus on our course by considering what has worked in the past, what opportunities we have, and what capacity we have to organize. This can come across as being a “my way or the highway” attitude, but we hope that students can look past that in order to understand our sincere intentions. We also encourage participation, feedback, and are always looking for new ways to frame our message to be more inclusive while maintaining its clarity and directness. We welcome all to our weekly meeting, every Sunday at 1:30 p.m. in SOCA Lounge (under Clark V).

In one of my discussion groups at the student-trustee retreat, a trustee said that part of their job was not only to serve students at the college now but students who will be here 20 years from now. They must make decisions based on the “real world” in order to secure the long-term sustainability of the college’s academic quality. I challenged him and I challenge every member of our community to also consider what kind of world we want to have built for the student 20 years from now. Do we want them to live in this same “real world” that dehumanizes members of our own community? We have the power to come together as students, staff, trustees, faculty, and administration and imagine a new world in which all individuals have a voice, starting with our own community here at Pomona College.

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