When Entitlement Gets In the Way of Community

I’ve often heard Sarah Lawrence students complain that they are so sick of hearing about race and privilege. From the complaints, you would think that these are issues most of our student body are educated and aware of, yet I’ve had many personal encounters and heard anecdotes that seem to imply otherwise. Instead, there is a sense of entitlement that seems to pervade the student body’s attitude toward almost everything. One disturbing aspect that this attitude manifests itself in is the way in which students think of and act towards the staff who work on this campus.

An example of this entitlement appears in the SLChatter: On Laundry article. In the article the writer recounts a time when he was locked out of a laundry room that he needed to get into:

“I swiped my ID card, but the light remained red. I borrowed my friend’s swipe card; the same thing happened. I called Westlands. They claimed security had a key, but then the security guard came and said I had to call facilities.”

“Was this security guard an idiot? I wondered. Isn’t there a recession? Can’t they find a security guard with an IQ over fifty that doesn’t have a Napolean complex?”

I understand that this piece was meant to be funny, that eventually the conclusion of the article is that students should be aware that the people who work on our campus are stuck in a bureaucratic system that can be ineffective to say the least.

“Instead of bitching about the machine, we should shout at the higher-ups.”

However, that doesn’t make the first quote any less offensive; it is indicative of a campus-wide attitude that a worker must be stupid or lazy if they fail to do their job in some way. Yes, it’s frustrating to have your sandwich order messed up or to be locked out of a laundry room; but how often do students take the time to consider that the workers are poorly paid for the physically taxing work that they do?

Sarah Lawrence prides itself on having a history of activism; alums and faculty who take on social justice work are highlighted on the school website. There are numerous talks per year about how we can make the world a better place, yet the way in which we treat the sub-contracted workers on campus leaves much to be desired. The sub-contracted workers, who are largely people of color, are not treated as part of our community.

The recent passing of Juana Anaya and the way it was announced to the community is a prime example of this attitude. Juana Anaya died on April 14th after losing her battle with cancer; senior, Easton Smith, emailed a brief obituary statement from her husband to the administration:

“Juana was born on May 30th 1944 in El Salvador. She died April 14th,
2012. She had her husband Alberto Alvarez, and her two children,
Evelin and Raul. She worked with Compas (Flik), doing utility,
salad and vegetarian food. She worked a lot and always with a smile.
She worked and got along very well with all of her fellow workers. She
worked for 23 years with Compas, before retiring at 63. She then came
back to work for one more year with Compas and then for two years with
AVI. With AVI she washed pots, prepared food, and helped with the
pizza and grill. She worked till the last moment, when Martin took her
to the hospital a year ago. I thank all of the fellow workers and
students who maintained their support for us. Thank You.”

Instead of releasing this statement, the student body received this one:

“I write with the sad news that Juana Anaya, one of our long term food service workers has passed away. Juana Anaya began working at Sarah Lawrence when she joined FLIK in the late 80’s.  She joined AVI Foodsystems in 2009.  Many of you knew Juana, who worked in a variety of positions during her time at Sarah Lawrence. She has worked in Bates, the Pub and the Health Food bar, as dishwasher and cook.  She is survived by her husband Alberto Alvarez and her sister Mercedes Anaya, both of whom are currently working for AVI.”

There is a glaring contrast between the two statements; the first offers us a glimpse into the type of person she was. The latter, on the other hand, offers us no information about her other than the fact that she worked in our dining hall for over twenty years. If we really mean to live up to our reputation as a school that is aware of social justice issues, then surely we owe more respect to the passing of one of our community members?

The Annual Worker’s Appreciation Dinner is about to happen this Sunday, an event when students have the opportunity to show their appreciation for the hard work that the sub-contracted staff put into our campus. Traditionally, Harambe and Unidad have hosted it, but the opportunity to volunteer has always been open to all students. This year there is a club dedicated to hosting the dinner and again volunteering is open to the entire student body. It is my hope that more first-time volunteers will sign up to engage with the workers outside of our everyday dynamics. Perhaps this will help us to foster an environment where everyone who works on campus can feel included in our community.

Featured Image: Google Images

Deborah was born and raised in Malaysia; three years ago she couldn’t wait to leave, but now finds herself writing and thinking about home all the time. She finds herself being mistaken for Latina in the United States, the latest in a long line of ethnicities other people have assumed for her, and decided to just go with it.

8 Comments

  • Reply April 29, 2012

    Bob Lamm

    I’m a writer in New York City and teach at NYU. In 1968, I was one of the first six male students as Sarah Lawrence began an “experiment” in coeducation.

    I want to thank Ms. Augustin for this powerful and important statement. I say this as a proud “child of the ’60s” who became a radical and activist at that time and still is. My generation accomplished a lot, but I’m sad to say that many of us were absolutely clueless regarding the struggles of workers on our own campuses. Workers like the late Juana Anaya.

    It’s wonderful that today there are students who are looking critically at issues of race, class, privilege, and entitlement. All of us should. One good way to remember Ms. Anaya is to show appreciation and support for Sarah Lawrence’s sub-conrracted staff members not only at the Workers Appreciation Dinner but every day.

  • Reply April 29, 2012

    Jordan

    lovely article. thank you.

  • Reply May 2, 2012

    Anonymous

    Let’s be honest though – there is that one cook at the pub that sucks so bad. I’ve never gotten a good quesadilla from him.

  • Reply May 2, 2012

    Josepher Hwayoung

    Not that the message of this article is wrongminded or offensive in any way. It just seems to me that you’ve overgeneralized how prevalent this issue is. The email regarding Mrs. Anaya hardly captures her humanity, but I’m not sure exactly how it is much worse than the obituary, which is similarly brief. To provide a longer more in depth statement would have required interviews with family members, as school faculty members can hardly be expected to know Mrs. Anaya’s life. Would you have wanted the school to bother a family in mourning so that they could get a few more details for an email?

    The first example you cite is properly offensive, but that’s on the author of the article not the entire student body. While these examples are dispositive of your argument I believe this article would have been better journalism if it took into account the students who are friendly with SLC workers. While this is an extreme example I can think of a number of girls who have been quite friendly with a few of security guards and cooks (entitlement didn’t seem to prevent romance).

  • Reply May 2, 2012

    Prairie

    Thank you for this article. When I was at SLC 20 years ago, we learned about labor issues but never thought to apply what we learned to the people around us. So glad there are some students there now who do.

  • Reply May 7, 2012

    Lydia

    Very well-pointed article. It can be staggering to hear people bitch about the workers here; so many of them are the sweetest people once you talk to them. I remember receiving the news of Juana Anaya’s death, wondering who she was and if I might have seen her at some point or talked to her at Bates or the Pub and being very frustrated with the brevity and disinterested manner of the announcement. So thanks for taking the time to remind the student body of this problem!

  • Reply May 9, 2012

    Mitchell Sunderland

    I believe most people have been frustrated and used impolite language when they pay for a service (i.e. a laundry room or food), and then the service isn’t delivered. Have you never cursed when you order something and it doesn’t show up? I doubt it. I never used a racial slur or said a security guard below me. I expressed anger during a situation and then acknowledged that I was wrong. Sarah Lawrence is a supposed to be a liberal school in favor of first amendment rights. I have the right to express my opinions.

    Also, I don’t know if you read my entire article, but at the end of the article I point out that I was in the wrong and that the security guard is working under ‘higher ups.’ I say the higher ups are the ones to blame for the problem, which is basically what you have said in this essay. If you are going to criticize an article, you should give the context of the supposedly ‘entitled’ essay.

  • Reply August 25, 2012

    Y.S.

    I am sorry to learn of Juana’s death via this article. She was an extremely sweet and kindhearted woman who I got to know during my time at Sarah Lawrence. It pains me to hear that her passing was announced in a dismissive way, as she truly was a wonderful individual. May she rest in peace.

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