Eyewitness report: Washington U students sit in for justice

ST. LOUIS — I am one of roughly a dozen students at Washington University who walked into the admissions office of our school April 4 carrying food, commitment, clothes, books, nerves and a passion for economic justice for the workers on our campus. We’ve been sitting in for 15 days and conducted a hunger strike for six of those days. We won’t be leaving until justice — in the form of a living wage for campus workers — is achieved.

More than 500 full-time service employees on our campus are unable to guarantee an adequate income for their families even though they work a 40-hour week. We feel this is unacceptable, but the university’s chancellor has blocked every effort to implement a living wage on our campus, including rejecting the unanimous recommendation of his own handpicked taskforce. It is the chancellor’s actions that served as the catalyst for our action.

By occupying the admissions office 24 hours a day, we have risked our academic careers by missing all of our classes for this cause. This sacrifice has been matched by a group of committed students who have skipped their own classes in order to contact media, organize rallies and build support.

Our educational goals have as little in common as our backgrounds: We cover all five undergraduate schools, range from freshman to senior, and include white, Black, Hispanic, and Asian students. Under other circumstances, the university administration may have pointed to us as an indication of their commitment to diversity. Today, it represents the strength of our cause.

Student Worker Alliance member Danielle Christmas put it this way to a tour group of Black students from our city’s schools: “The people on this campus who look like us are not paid enough to feed their families.”

Meredith Davis was shocked when she discovered she was in a place where working-class people were not treated with respect. Irene Compadre, who speaks to the Latino groundskeepers in the Spanish she learned as part of her own heritage, will likely have to finish her architecture studio class this summer because of her actions.

I have lived in the Shaw neighborhood, in the near South Side, my entire life. Although both my family and my neighborhood have had their economic ups and downs, one thing has stayed constant: We identified ourselves as a community and not as individuals motivated by selfishness.

We are driven by a sense of obligation that compels us to advocate for the men and women who work on this campus. Working people should be able to raise a family without having to work overtime or having to choose between food and medicine.