Letter: Don’t let the University erase student activism

To the Editor:

As members of the Brown Student Labor Alliance, we are writing to respond to the letter to the editor published by The Herald Oct. 30 by Barbara Chernow, executive vice president for finance and administration. In this letter, Chernow downplayed the role of student and worker activism in the University’s recent commitment to address dangerous working conditions in the Sharpe Refectory.

Though a process to upgrade the Ratty may have begun in fall of 2015, there were not adequate measures to address overheating in the interim summers. In 2017, Summer@Brown resident advisors, including many students of color, began a campaign to obtain air conditioning in the Ratty after communications with workers. It was only in August of 2017, after weeks of student and worker mobilization, that the administration took the first material steps to remedy overheating, including installing temporary cooling towers.

Throughout the 2017-18 academic year, the SLA continued this work as no permanent plans had been proposed by the administration to the University community. Through the accounts of employees at the Ratty, it became clear that issues of overheating had existed, and had remained unremedied by the administration, for decades. It took almost a year of student pressure for Chernow to make plans to renovate the Ratty public in the pages of The Herald. Without increased visibility and pressure, it’s doubtful that these public statements would have been released.

Chernow’s Oct. 30 letter is the latest incarnation of the decades-long pattern of the University erasing student activism by absorbing it into the discourse of existing institutional change. Major advances in the University, including the development of the Open Curriculum, greater enrollment of black students and the acknowledgement of Indigenous People’s Day, were all the results of tireless student organizing.

Chernow wrote that “the administration, Brown’s dining workers and advocates from the SLA share the same goal — a healthy and safe work environment for all employees.” The SLA urges the Brown community to evaluate the University’s actions before accepting this statement. Aligning student struggle with the University’s intentions erases the essential role that activists have played in propelling change throughout the history of Brown. The University will not make students’ and workers’ lives more liveable of its own accord.

Evan Lehmann ’19,

Noa Machover ’19.5

Lucas Smolcic Larson ’19

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