Dear Editors of the Kenyon Collegian,
We, the members of the PEEPS O’ Kenyon Alumni Association, write in support of the Kenyon Student Workers Organizing Committee and their efforts to form a union.
Many of our members spent long years in college debugging IT and rigging PAs, re-shelving monographs and slinging hash browns. We know firsthand the value student workers bring to campus. We know also, from our time in the workplace since graduating, that labor unions do not diminish the organizations whose workers they represent; they enhance them.
Unions create more invested employees, more dynamic organizational communication, improved health and safety standards and efficiency-derived cost savings — all of which are qualities our Kenyon educations taught us to value. Kenyon’s successful partnership with United Electrical 712 is just one example of the value unions can impart. We feel confident that the nascent student union will do the same.
Years ago, sitting amid the aristocratic pomp of Philomathesian Hall, I had the privilege of hearing Professor Shutt deliver his IPHS lecture on Marx. By this point, my classmates and I knew Professor Shutt well enough to be concerned that our introduction to class struggle would be delivered by a professor who most of us loved somewhat in spite of his deeply held conservative beliefs. The talk began in the familiar Shutt style: eloquent and engaging, rehearsing major theses, clarifying obscure Hegelianisms and contextualizing with vibrant historical anecdotes.
But, as the lecture drew to a close, the focus shifted to the personal and local. Professor Shutt recalled sitting in the Cove, overhearing students mocking shoppers they’d encountered at Walmart. He recalled their condescension and disregard for the working-class people in whose community they were privileged to attend college. He recalled students deriding fashion choices and shopping cart contents and the quiet disappointment on the faces of the bartender and of the longtime Gambier residents — farmers and grocery store workers, engine-factory line workers and janitors — as the students mocked them. He summoned like specters the disappointed faces of his friends and neighbors — and of our own, too, that we often seemed to forget.
Professor Shutt recalled, also, the contempt with which some of us discussed student workers — our crass jokes about hairnets and paint crews — without whose campus jobs a Kenyon education would be impossible. Too many of us, sitting in the stained-glass light of that Ohio afternoon, recognized ourselves as those mocking, scoffing Cove-goers. Too many of us had disdained the work that supported our lives, the giant shoulders on which we too indifferently stood, even as we showered them with castings.
But no longer. This letter is offered as a small correction to that earlier indifference. We stand in solidarity with Kenyon’s student workers. We support their struggle for collective bargaining, their desire for work-study job stability and accessibility, for international student worker justice, for harassment-free workplaces, for wages that reflect student workers’ essentiality and for increased mental health support. Most importantly, we demand student worker voices be heard, that they have a seat at the table.
We stand in solidarity, for it is only in union we find grace.
With angels & Engels,
President, Peeps Alumni Association