Students engage in conversation about university immigrant workers
Student are making an effort to increase relationships between students, faculty and immigrant workers.
Members of the Student Worker Alliance Program hosted the “Symposium on the University Worker Experience” on Friday in an effort to create a dialogue within the CU community about immigrant-worker experience.
The symposium, which consisted of several panels that carried on through the majority of the day, provided the chance for CU immigrant workers to make their voices heard.
The panels also discussed what the workers need from CU.
“This symposium allows for us to come together to build a stronger community and talk about what is needed for these workers,” said Andrew Riccio, a senior international affairs major and member of SWAP.
One panel addressed the experiences of CU’s dining hall workers. The Dining Workers Panel included workers Jaime Zapata, Miguel Perez and Santana Sanchez, and was moderated by Riccio.
Riccio asked the panelists various questions and then opened the floor to questions from the audience.
The panelists all said they liked their jobs and generally got along well with students.
“We actually have a lot of different interactions with the students . . . there are kids that work with us,” Zapata said.
Perez and Sanchez, speaking with the aid of an interpreter, said they could benefit from education and from learning English.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of education before I came to the U.S.,” Sanchez said. “Because of my age, it’s hard to learn, but it’s good . . . I wish I had come here earlier”.
Perez said he has had fewer interactions with students, but says he has formed good relationships with those he has met. He works in a kitchen, not in a dining room.
“The few [students] that I know that I’ve met, we had a good relationship,” Perez said.
Riccio mentioned that the panelists’ statements were “very different answers than what I’ve heard with custodial workers.”
The Custodian Workers Panel addressed the carelessness of students.
“They were talking about issues with students,” Riccio said of the panel. “One example was in front of a worker- a student picked up a trash can and dumped the contents out on the floor and said ‘clean that up’ and walked away”.
For many workers, the campus climate is not one in which they are able to feel comfortable.
One worker, who does custodial work for Sewall, said she often feels walked-on by students because she does not speak English. She said students will often ignore her and neglect to say simple terms of etiquette such as “excuse me.”
Ellen Aiken, an instructor with the Sewall Residential Academic Program, said there is currently a lack of any formal relationship between students and workers, which can create a very uninviting atmosphere.
“There’s a lot students who just don’t know about immigrant roles here at CU,” Aiken said.
In order to encourage student-worker relationships, Aiken helps run a Dialogues on Immigrant Integration program through Sewall, which gives students an opportunity to engage in direct conversation with CU workers.
Aiken said that through this interaction, students begin to develop healthier relationships with workers.
“Students begin to realize the consequences of their actions and begin to see who picks up after them,” Aiken said.
SWAP also hosted a panel of Anonymous Worker Testimonies, which reflected negative experiences workers have had with students.
Anonymous worker complaints listed students smearing feces on restroom walls, students not flushing toilets and male students walking into bathrooms when female workers were cleaning them.
Issues of sexual harassment against women were also brought up. In one case, a female worker said she complained of sexual harassment and nothing was done.
Students said this fact was unacceptable.
“That needs to be addressed right away, regardless of what else is happening,” said panelist Abby Shepard, a junior international affairs major and member of SWAP.
Alex Acosta, a custodian who works in Sewall, said his relationships with students have improved since new programs such as DII have started, yet things are still not quite perfect.
“Students are really open to converse-but not all of them, just some of them,” Acosta said.
Shepard said a lot of the disconnect between students and workers is contributed to by a general lack of understanding.
“There’s a huge loss with human connection,” Shepard said. “Students have no relationship with the workers. If they did, there would be more of an investment in being respectful.”
Christina Yoshinaga, former vice chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Community Engagement, said another standing issue for workers is that they feel a lack of support from their supervisors and administration.
“What employees know is that most bad things that happen on campus are things that don’t cross the line of being illegal,” Yoshinaga said. “There is a lot of fear from employees that they’ll lose their jobs if they mention something bad, but not illegal.”
Yoshinaga said what is needed in order for workers to feel more comfortable in disclosing issues with their supervisors and administration is mandatory diversity training. Yoshinaga said that currently, little of this training exists.
She said CU needs to invest in continual training in order for worker relationships to effectively be improved within the CU community.
“The biggest problem is that supervisors keep changing, the administration keeps changing, the students keep changing,” Yoshinaga said. “Educating people once is therefore not enough. We need a continual education program because we don’t know if the person coming in has that level of diversity knowledge.”
Yoshinaga also said that other efforts need to be made in order to translate all employee documents, to provide proper computer training programs and to create scholarships so children of the workers have an opportunity of attending CU.
“We need more scholarships,” Yoshinaga said. “These children can’t possibly come here with the salaries we’re paying their parents.”
Shepard said that, at its roots, the CU community would be a more welcoming place for workers if students just tried.
“If students could only make the effort to have a relationship with the workers, workers could help feel more at home,” Shepard said.
Another panel addressed labor rights and construction projects at CU. The panelists were junior international affairs major Claudia Ebel and UCSU Tri-executive Hadley Brown, a senior English major.
The panel discussed the Capital Construction bill, passed by UCSU in 2004, which raised student fees to pay for five construction projects on CU from which the state had pulled funding.
Brown and Ebel, who have both worked since then on a program called Best Value Contracting, explained that the lowest bidding contractors did not always treat their workers the best. In the Best Value Contracting Program, contractors bidding for construction projects are forced to consider workers rights when developing a contract.
Brown said that in terms of worker rights “there are some really good companies but there are some really bad companies.”
Brown also said there are a number of Latino and immigrant workers in the industry, and that companies can often exploit that demographic.
The panelists admitted that their program has had limited success so far, and that when they started their program, it measured construction bids 60 percent by workers rights and 40 percent by cost. However, the panelists said that the figure is now 30 percent by workers rights and 70 percent by cost.
The final panel of the day was a faculty panel held to discuss the “theoretical perspective” of worker issues. The panel included ethnic studies Professor Elisa Facio, sociology Professor Tom Mayer and ethnic studies Professor Arturo Aldama.
Facio addressed the issue of working in a shifting community.
“One of the many characteristics of globalization today is the movement of people,” Facio said.
Facio spoke about the feminization of poverty, saying that over half of recent illegal immigrants worldwide are women.
“Who benefits and who does not benefit from globalization?” Facio asked.
Mayer commented on the divide between faculty and non-faculty at CU.
“It shouldn’t be the case that one group of people should do the mental labor and another group should do the manual labor,” Mayer said.
Mayer said faculty should think of themselves more as workers, and that the two-tiered faculty system of tenured and non-tenured faculty has divided the faculty at CU, causing a negative affect for issues such as academic freedom.
“Inequality is hard on solidarity,” Mayer said.
Aldama made note of the tension created by students toward workers.
“One of the frustrations I’ve had is the complete lack of respect for workers,” Aldama said.
Aldama referenced a recent article in the local media about racial segregation in Boulder schools.
“The parents were like ‘I don’t want my kids around all these Latinos’,” Aldama said.
The day’s panels concluded with a party held for students and workers in UMC 235.
For more information about SWAP and other related student activist groups, visit CU Labor Solidarity .
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Sam Dieter at Samuel.email@example.com.
Contact Campus Press Staff Writer Sara Fossum at Sara.firstname.lastname@example.org.