As patches of campus regained electricity on Tuesday evening, 100 students gathered in the Exley Science Center lobby to discuss resources for staff whose homes remain without power. The group has since organized a non-perishable food drive and free childcare for Wesleyan employees’ children for as long as the power outage continues.
Paul Blasenheim ’12 convened the meeting out of fear that the University was neglecting the needs of staff in this time of crisis.
“A lot of the rhetoric that’s been used, talking about coming together, supporting one another only applies to students, not to staff,” he said.
Blasenheim said that this concern was brought to his attention by a member of the staff, whom he declined to identify.
“I’ve had a number of conversations with a staff person who originally was planning on coming in,” he said. “But because of fear of penalty…this person has preferred to remain anonymous.”
These concerns included a lack of bilingual communication and direct communication to staff, as well as a demand that the University provide shelter, food, childcare, showers, and laundry services to employees during emergency situations.
May Lee Watase ’13, who co-coordinates the WesESL program, said she was concerned that all-campus emails during the first few days of the blackout were focused around providing resources to students, rather than the University community as a whole.
“When SciLi was opened for students it wasn’t explicitly advertised to staff, it wasn’t advertised to Middletown residents,” she said.
A Translation Working Group was formed to address the perceived issue that formal University communications during the emergency were issued only in English, though some staff members do not speak English.
On Wednesday, students at the meeting submitted a draft of demands to administrators and set up working groups to tackle tasks such as media outreach, despite having only spoken to a handful of staff members at that point. They have since formed a group devoted to communication with staff and held a meeting with custodial workers on Thursday.
President Michael Roth said that he considered the students’ decision to issue a set of demands to be “well-meaning but a little patronizing.”
“We do have mechanisms for staff to advocate for themselves, and they use them pretty effectively; so, if there are things that we can do for the staff… I’d be happy to hear about it from the staff directly,” Roth said.
Several staff members have already taken advantage of the services that students are offering, according to Aviva Markowitz ’12, who coordinated the free childcare program that was offered Thursday at the Buttonwood Tree Community Performing Arts Center. The program is run by student volunteers and will operate again on Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“I wanted to help the people who have been working really hard to get campus back to normal,” Markowitz said. “I think it is really important to help provide childcare for people whose children were out of school due to the power outage.”
Another group of students provided food for the children at the daycare and have filled up a corner of the Exley lobby with non-perishable goods and flashlights.
Two custodians, who are contracted by ABM Industries, said that they received no text messages, phone calls, or emails from the University about the power outage, though they both had cell phone service.
The custodians, who declined to be identified, said that they would have appreciated phone calls about the situation but reported to work as usual this week. They were absolved of many of their daily cleaning duties and asked to take out the trash, which had accumulated. They said that, while they were told they could go home hours before the end of their shifts, they believe they will still receive a full day’s pay.
A staff member from a different department observed that, though SciLi has been serving as a shelter since Sunday, no additional custodians have been sent in to support the one custodian who normally works there. This custodian is now responsible for extra maintenance due to the students who seek refuge in the library, as well as the normal flow of library traffic.
In addition to ABM custodians, The Argus spoke with employees from Physical Plant, the Clerical/Secretarial Union, Bon Appetit, and Public Safety. Responses varied greatly as to whether employees saw a need for additional services for staff during the power outage such as food, shelter, and shower facilities, though the volunteer childcare program was seen by many to be beneficial.
Many staff expressed concern for the well being of students during the power outage and optimism about returning to work.
“We’re all stuck in this together regardless,” Chief Steward of Secretarial/Clerical Union Local 151 Barbara Schukoske said. “I want to make sure my students are okay too. I’ve got power here [on campus]–why don’t I just come to work and be warm?”
Dean Mike Whaley announced via an all-campus email on Thursday that the administration and WSA will hold a gathering today to discuss the needs of the campus community during the time of crisis. The meeting will take place in PAC 001 at 5:00 p.m.