MAX GIARRUSSO & NALANI WEAN, Special to The Denisonian

“The only thing I have learned from my student worker experience here is how to identify when I am being mistreated and how to fight for my rights” -Anonymous Student Worker 

Our rise should not be surprising. dLOC and the fight for justice and fairness in student labor at Denison has not been a short time coming. We want to make it clear that this movement did not spark from a one-time injustice, or solely to confront one issue like a wage increase. It stems from months of attempts by students to address unjust work environments, time and time again. This is our history and our personal stories.

Max Giarrusso ‘21

I am the current DCGA president and Chair of the Campus Affairs Council (CAC). In September, I resigned from my position as a Senior Docent in Admissions due to the ill treatment that staff faced, and the lack of respect we were shown by supervisors. At that point in time, I began conversations with President Weinberg and Vice President Miller about how to best resolve the issues with student employment on campus. They were well aware of our concerns and agreed that students, staff, and administration should work together to resolve some issues. 

From September through December 2020, I pushed forward on the issue of student employment through the Campus Affairs Council. I met with various students, faculty, staff, and administrators to gather as much information on the issue as possible and begin to brainstorm effective solutions. Throughout these conversations, we received minimal input from administration or the Knowlton Center, who were both apparently working on student employment within their own offices. It felt like I wasn’t getting help in addressing these issues.

Finally, on March 4th, I took the initiative to invite Melanie Murphy from the Knowlton Center and Chief of Staff Raj Bellani from the President’s Office to CAC to bring everyone together on this issue. During this meeting, we concluded that after months of inaction from administration, the creation of a formal Student Employment Task Force would be the best route to begin working to resolve the concerns of students. We have since just begun the first conversations of this group, which I am hopeful will make great strides to improve the status of student employment on campus.

However, I have been continually disappointed by the lack of support I have received from administration on this topic. While Melanie has been able to make great progress on the career development side of student employment, I was frustrated to learn that administration had not made her aware of the situation in admissions that effectively led to her being charged with working on student employment. This is just one example of how Denison Admin is systematically trying to pivot the conversation away from worker’s rights and towards the “experiential” aspect of employment—and thus away from the issues that spurred the task force in the first place.

On September 22, 2020, students and faculty received an email stating, “As President Weinberg wrote two weeks ago, we are putting together a process to take a look at student employment on campus.” Now, eight months after our concerns as students were brought to administration’s attention, and solely thanks to the perseverance of students, we are finally seeing the first signs of progress. But the work is not finished. Admin must actively include the voice of students in these conversations.

Nalani Wean ‘21

The denison Labor Organizing Committee is a group that has long been needed on this campus. While we are primarily focused on student labor currently, we stand fully in solidarity with all Denison staff, especially those who are underpaid and undervalued on campus, and hope that our movement can progress alongside theirs. 

Labor rights are, and have always been, an institutional and systemic issue. They are neither new, nor unique, to Denison. Instead, they have been ingrained in civil rights and anti-discrimination movements throughout time. This year in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many of the already existing issues related to student labor to the surface, as well as creating new ones. 

Student workers from across campus have raised these issues to their supervisors and to high-level administrators, and we have experienced a collective lack of tangible response. While there are some immediate problems that were fixed, many students feel that their voices were listened to, but not heard. 

Personally, I had numerous conversations and email exchanges last semester with my supervisors in the Admissions Office, Vice President Miller, Julie Tucker, Gregory Sneed, and President Weinberg. Even without the involvement from my end, numerous students have already gone the route of addressing administrators directly to make these changes. And yet issues persist.

As Max mentioned, the Student Employment Task Force that we both currently sit on took an immense amount of effort to get up and running, and will likely take a while to implement changes. It is the responsibility of the institution to create policy changes so that student workers and supervisors can foster healthy work environments and prioritize student worker rights, and the fact that this has not been directly addressed even in just my time here is shameful. We can do better.

We are a university that claims to treat its students with respect, practice anti-racism and oppose discrimination, and encourage critical thinking. If we are truly dedicated to these values, we must actively work to prioritize equitable student labor practices and involve student voices. We are not fighting against administration. We are fighting to work with them. But we should not have to push this hard in order to do that. Without student workers, this campus would not run, it would not flourish, and it certainly would not have the incredible reputation that it does. It could not be more clear that working with students on the issue of student labor is not an institutional priority for Denison. They want nothing but to keep us calm while controlling the narrative. Now, as administration fights to twist the narrative, we fight for transparency, honesty, collaboration, and change. We are the denison Labor Organizing Committee and we will not rest until student workers are not only listened to, but heard. We have every intention of working with administration and the Task Force on student employment, but the students must be aware of the fight we are pushing. We demand accountability and we demand action.