Harvard University’s dining services workers have been on strike since last week, seeking a living wage and affordable health care. The enlightened leaders of Harvard are not making it easy for students to support them.
Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of elite college students and their activist tendencies could have told Harvard that students would seek to support the strikers, who are asking to make $35,000 a year, against the school, which doesn’t want to pay them that despite having a $35 billion endowment. The best thing Harvard could do for itself in a PR sense would be to reach a deal with its workers to end the strike. Short of that, they should at least be taking care not to appear as if they are doing anything to stop their own students from offering support. And yet!
Some background: first year Harvard Law School students are assigned to “sections” of about 80 students each, to facilitate networking and orientation. Each section has a “Social Committee,” that has thousands of dollars of funding to put on events that help members of the section make friends with each other. When it became clear that the dining workers strike was going to happen last week, some of the Harvard Law sections expressed interest in hosting events with food to help feed the striking workers—many of whom normally eat at work. But just as the student section members were discussing this last week, Harvard Law’s dean of students, Marcia Sells, sent out the following email. Bolding ours:
Hello Section Social Committee Members:
It has come to my attention that a number of sections have had some very challenging discussions about whether or not to use the Section Funding to provide lunch for striking [Harvard University Dining Services] workers.
[Harvard Law School] Administration is not providing food at any of our events during strike periods. We were not planning on bringing outside food for any events. It does not seem to make sense for us to encourage with Section Funds for students to bring in food to feed workers who are on strike. In addition, we understand that some students had a broader idea of providing full lunch services and this is neither possible with the Section Funding nor is it really feasible.
The spirit of the Section funds is to build community and seems to have become quite divisive. We encourage students who want to support HUDS workers on strike by providing food to pool their individual resources to support that effort. We also have heard there are some Sections who are interested in learning more about the issues and want to hear from a representative for HUDS. This is also an activity that is within the guidelines of Section programming. We also encourage sections to create joint events so they do not have HUDS representatives presenting multiple times on the same issue. If students of other sections want to attend then they will be able to do so. If you do plan to have food at that session you can use the section funding for that purpose.
It is critical that during this period students still actively listen with curiosity and empathy to each other. It may be hard to know that there are fellow students, strongly disagree or even slightly disagree with your point of view, but it is imperative that you not let this matter drive you to a point of ceasing all communication or not attempting to work together.
All the best,
Sells has not responded to our request for comment but we will update this post if she does. We’re told that at least one of the sections is going ahead with plans to feed strikers regardless.
Harvard is doing a good job teaching students how to outwit powerful conservative institutions.