lunch

Students eat lunch with Housekeeping and Facilities Staff at the Appreciation Luncheon.

On the early afternoon of Wednesday, April 26, over 150 individuals flooded Fox Hall for a staff appreciation luncheon, when less than 80 were expected.  While the underestimation of attendees caused some added stress and unsatisfied bellies, the problem-at-hand represented a greater, unaccounted for population of students and faculty who yearned for the opportunity to express their support and appreciation for Eckerd’s workers.

This appreciation luncheon was held to specifically recognize the tireless hours and work of Eckerd’s housekeeping, maintenance and grounds, and facilities staff.  While in the past, the Coalition for Community Justice (CCJ) Eckerd club would regularly hold these luncheons — an important point I will return to — this luncheon was organized and hosted by Dr. Tamar Shovali’s Cultural Diversity class.  

The class, which includes a request for service hours, wished to put volunteer efforts towards a project that involved elements of both social justice and diversity. We felt putting this work into something on campus would be most sustainable, and then turned to the other project element of diversity. Diversity-related issues at Eckerd College was a subject discussed in almost every class period. We recognized the diversity within the Eckerd community only when we expanded to the entire community beyond the students and faculty. This is in fact where the majority of diversity at Eckerd resides. We felt much could be done to make this staff feel they are an important part of the Eckerd community and put our efforts towards organizing an appreciation luncheon.

This event would resuscitate the efforts of Coalition for Community Justice that we’ve carried out for many years, though this club unfortunately dissipated three years ago when its student leaders graduated. The disappointing reality is that when the club discontinued, so did the signals of appreciation and concerns for justice for these workers.  

In addition to frequent appreciation luncheons, CCJ also fought for higher wages amongst the housekeeping staff.  Caitlin Congi (’16) explained how “the club leaders, specifically Eden Shlomi (’14), did tedious work in efforts to increase wages by merely a few cents and provide certain benefits for staff who had been working for multiple years.”

I write this article in hopes that some non-seniors are moved and feel a call to action. Last week’s luncheon proved that student and faculty’s wishes to express gratitude and appreciation to these workers is present, and now it is up to the students to take initiative to organize for these types of events. While this recent luncheon’s surprising turnout led Dr. Shovali to vow that she will “continue to ask the Cultural Diversity class to organize these luncheons at least once a year,” this should represent a starting point and not an alternative to advocate for the rights and fair treatment for all in our Eckerd community, particularly those who may feel that their voices are never heard. Understandably, there is only so much an entire class with other obligations and homework can dedicate to out-of-class projects.  

Ms. Daisy, a housekeeping staff member, explained to me the extensive efforts CCJ once carried out, including “GED course trainings in the Omega lounge, appreciation luncheons with good food,” and addressing President Eastman on the issue of unfair wages. It struck an emotional chord to hear her explain, “over the past few years, it has all stopped, and we wondered what was going on.”  They eventually realized it was because the dedicated student leaders had graduated, and the baton was not successfully handed off to another student.

A few weeks into organizing the luncheon, Dr. Shovali informed us that the luncheon would not count for service hours due to the fact that it is an on-campus project.  Considering that work with the recycling, compost and garden clubs can all count for service, this may be another issue that needs to be addressed. For an institution that preaches inclusion, equality and justice, these philosophies should be carried out by action. While there are service hour requirements in attempts to connect students to “our greater community” of St. Petersburg, we should not assume all areas of social justice work in our on-campus community, or “bubble,” have been met.

We, as the students who make the messes, do not have to ponder the often-dirty labor our housekeepers experience daily. Nor do we look around in wonderment at the beauty of our campus and believe it landscaped itself, or that the areas we comfortably enjoy campus events set up themselves. Rather, this is the solid, strenuous efforts of housekeeping, maintenance and facility staff, who deserve more than a twice-yearly appreciation luncheon they have not been receiving.

If any students are inspired by this article and information on the lost CCJ club to contribute their time and energy to on-campus efforts towards justice, I urge you to contact me at jehollan@eckerd.edu for further information. As I look toward graduation just a few weeks away, I realize that I cannot be the one to revitalize the CCJ club.  I do however have optimism that there are students reading this who will be motivated to show that we can provide more than lip service to ideals about fairness, diversity and equality of opportunity. I have materials and instruction from previous CCJ members that I am eager to pass on to passionate, justice-seeking students and will be awaiting your future contact!

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