NOTE FROM BZOD: About a month and a half ago, we posted a piece by Cesar Chavez ’15 in which he translated a letter from the custodial staff to President Roth in which custodial staff decried their unreasonable working conditions. That letter was part 1 of 2. This letter, written by Cesar, focuses on the invisibility of poverty at Wesleyan. With that, Cesar’s post:
My name is Cesar Chavez, poor Hispanic male, age 19. I am writing this because as a poor student I can no longer stand and see how I, along with other students, am brought into a cycle of perpetual poverty by this university. It is unfair that this university has the audacity to state that there is no money for poor students and that it forces us to take loans in order to obtain a degree that in the future will become a worthless piece of paper. Likewise, I want to break the silence around the issue of poverty. By not talking about the issue, we allow this injustice to continue. I also would like to direct this critique to poor students currently at Wesleyan. If you are reading this, I encourage you to speak up. I know the frustration and anger that you are all probably experiencing. Do not keep it inside yourselves. Make your voices heard.
Our custodians are not the only ones who have been alienated, marginalized, and oppressed at Wesleyan. Poor student have suffered these ailments as well. I, along with many other students, am a victim of indentured servitude that comes in the form of student debt. I am a poor student going to this “elite” institution so that I can pursue my academic goals and be a member of a productive society. But in my opinion, many people aren’t going to college to learn anymore; people attend college so they can land a decent job. Likewise, we live in a time when a bachelor’s degree won’t get you too far. Because we live in a global capitalist economy dominated by a global plutocracy, students in the United States have to compete even harder for jobs with students from other countries like India and China. In order to stay competitive, one needs to obtain a Masters or PhD. As a result the college and school cultures have changed in recent years to accommodate the growing corporatization. More emphasis is placed on standardized tests, corporate careers, competition, and raising tuition. Now, few people seem to have desire to learn anymore. They simply want to walk in, pass tests, get the career networks they need, walk out and land a decent job. All of this has shown me that higher education is dying and makes me question, “Why am I even bothering with college?”
On top of all this, there is the fact that people have to take out loans in this country in order to obtain a degree. I will be graduating with an estimated $12,000 in debt. If I decide to attend graduate school in the future it would another $12,000 (most likely more). Sure, $12,000 in debt is nothing compared to $30,000 or even $1,000,000 in debt, but I am poor and I have no safety nets. Aside from taking student loans, I, along with other students, am forced to sign up for the health insurance plan sponsored by the University. As some of you may know, the price of the health plan is about $800 and it is not covered by tuition. I found out about this fee by mail after I had responded to my acceptance letter to Wesleyan before my freshman year. I am spending money I do not have and that I will probably never have in my lifetime. These rising costs make me wonder what am I doing here. What assures me that when I graduate I will find a job? What assures me that when I leave college I will be able to exercise my career as a historian? Who is going to hire me? The more time I’ve spent in academia, the more it seems like a big scam to me. I could easily learn anything I want online, yet in today’s society I am forced to obtain a degree so I can obtain decent job so that I can pay the loans that I had to take out so that I could obtain a degree. This is a vicious cycle that is driving me deeper into poverty
I know people who didn’t go to college and did well; my paternal grandfather was one of them. He worked as an industrial worker in a tire making factory. He was diligent and hardworking. He fought to unionize his workplace and won. At the age of 60, he retired as the factory manager. He only had an elementary school education, yet he has lived a fulfilling life. His hobbies were reading history books and collecting artifacts. My father and my grandfather are the people who inspired me to be a historian. I am learning history because in the future I want teach my people the importance of knowing our history and stop the ransacking and smuggling of ancient artifacts from historical sites, a problem in my native Peru, but now I am just so discouraged to go on. What is the point of my dedication and my hard work if in the end I will still be a slave to poverty and wear the shackles of student debt?
Wesleyan claims to be a “diversity university,” but is nothing more than a valueless statement. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would have encouraged alumni not to built the new track on the Freeman Athletic Center and rather have that money be redirected towards the financial aid packages of poor students. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would guide underrepresented minorities throughout the entire college process. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would provide poor students with support groups so that they can have a smoother transition into college. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would not allow its custodians to be exploited and treated worse than cattle [BZOD NOTE: See these three posts about this issue, and Cesar’s last guest post]. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would promote class consciousness rather than ignore the plight of the poor who work and study in its halls. If Wesleyan cared about diversity, it would provide poor students with more paid internships so they can get ahead of their wealthier peers. I chose the title “This is Why (Not)” because I am disgusted that this university uses the diversity label when it has gotten rid of need blind admissions, invests on building projects rather than on its poor students, and it oppresses those who work on its halls.
WSA Passes USLAC Resolution in Favor of Better Working Conditions for Custodial Staff
Why Dorm Showers Aren’t Getting Cleaned: An FAQ About Wesleyan and Its Contracted Custodial Staff – [Part I, Part II, Part III] The Argus: Community Members Rally for Worker Solidarity at Football Game
This Is Why Not: A Guest Post by Cesar Chavez ’15 about the Custodial Staff’s Situation
The Argus: Custodians Rally For Smaller Workloads, Increased Work Force
Wesleyan’s Custodial Workers Protest Working Conditions, Employee Cuts Outside Roth’s House on Lunch Break
The Middletown Press: Wesleyan custodians continue protests for better conditions
The Middletown Press: Wesleyan custodians decry conditions, cuts