This is a call to action to all VCU students.
I have attended VCU for almost three years now and in those years, I have dedicated my time to studying social justice. Semester after semester, I learned about social injustices that were happening all around the world, yet I never felt actively engaged in fixing these enormous global problems.
It was not until last semester when I took a course on the local history of Richmond that it became clear that these global problems I have learned about in an academic setting manifest in Richmond every day. Aware of my privileged position in society, I began to wonder how my presence in Richmond affected these inequalities and how VCU has, as an institution and the largest employer in Richmond, affected the poverty, gentrification and lack of sense of community that I learned about in my class.
Along with a group of students equally as passionate and dedicated to social justice, I began to do some research to get acquainted with the dynamics of VCU and how its influence on the Richmond community. The Living Wage Campaign talked to professors, service workers, other students, VCU administrative staff and private contracting firms. The information we gathered varied in many ways, but one thing seemed to become more clear: This university is being run like a business.
We learned the harsh consequences of what president Michael Rao’s Quest for Distinction has brought to students, professors, employers and the Richmond community. Professors are being overworked and underpaid, service workers are kept at part time to avoid being provided benefits, student tuition keeps going up and VCU expansion and recognition is on the forefront of the school’s priorities.
It was then that it hit me: If I am willing to put myself in debt for more than 10 years to attend this school for a mediocre education (due to overworked professors), I, along with more than 30,000 students at VCU, should have a say in where the thousands of dollars in tuition money are going each semester. I will not stand idle and watch VCU increase tuition, expand our campus, pay a basketball coach more than any professor or university official, including President Rao, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on “branding.” This is a school, not a corporation; I am not a consumer, I am here to learn, and I am part of a community.
I believe that no worker in this university should have to endure being paid such low wages while a small percentage of university employees prosper. I do not think it is right that service workers that I interact with everyday, who have been working here for more than 10 years, have not received a raise while I keep paying VCU more every year. I do not believe that it is right that hundreds of Aramark workers have to apply for state unemployment five months out of the year when school is not in session.
No one who works for this school should have to live in poverty, especially while they watch the campus they work on grow and prosper.
As students, we are here for four years of our life and will continue paying for this education for many more. It is time we get together and demand respect for everyone in this community. We have a right to demand answers, to have opinions and to try to change our university into a better place. We need to be conscious about the decisions our university is making and we cannot remain apathetic to the things happening in our community.
The contract with one of the largest employers of hourly workers, Aramark, is to be renewed after 10 years on June 30, 2013. Let’s demand that our money does not aid to maintain poverty level wages and help the Richmond community prosper while we are here.
I end with a quote from an anonymous VCU service worker: “I have worked for VCU for the past 10 years, I love this school; I wished they loved me back.”