Commemorating Workers Rights on Campus

Jazmynne Williams

The Students and Workers Museum of Resistance and Joy was taken down on Thursday, but its purpose, and the people behind it are not going anywhere.

A few weeks ago, the Duke Chronicle broke the story about Duke Executive Vice President Tallman Trask hitting a parking attendant with his car in 2014. However, little attention has been given on campus to the situation. The Students and Workers Museum of Resistance and Joy has been on campus during the past week in order to raise awareness and spread the word about the situation, which surprisingly, isn’t that well known.

This museum exhibit was put up on Monday, March 28th to show that workers are supported by students on campus, and as a way to promote community activity. Duke Students and Workers in Solidarity, a new coalition on campus, has been heavily involved in the museum and outreach. If you walked past Abele Quad during that week, you probably saw a set of doors with streamers, pictures, flyers, banners, and more. However, while many walked by, very few actually stopped and interacted. What does this say about our community on campus, and furthermore, our care of workers on campus?

The incident in 2014 is not the only instance in which workers have faced abuse and discrimination. In fact, this incident is simply the most public. While students on campus are focused on midterms and finals and getting internships and jobs, there is a completely different part of our environment that most students on campus don’t even realize is there.

Many workers don’t live on campus; instead most of them live in the surrounding area, and spend a lot of time on our campus, protecting us, cleaning bathrooms, making food, and more. Without them, the university would not run the way it does today. Most of our workers on campus are also people of color, and this definitely ties into the way they interact with their white employers. These workers often get paid less than living wage, are treated as inferiors, and often have to struggle to even get into positions that they rightfully deserve.

Our campus has a culture of wanting to be pleasing to the public, both physically and academically. We are at an institution in which we have some of the most amazing professors in the world, and praise the diversity and progressiveness in our brochures. Yet we have allowed Tallman Trask, who has committed a felony against a parking attendant, to remain our Executive Vice President and representative of who we are. We have allowed for officials such as Kyle Cavanaugh and Carl DePinto to treat workers as nothing more than disposable objects, rather than as humans who do a lot of labor that many people don’t deem as worthy for them.

If we truly care about making our world a better place, how can we allow such atrocities on our own campus? How can we call ourselves upstanding citizens who are enamored with being part of a society that is meant for everyone, when clearly our university continues to prove the opposite daily? We hold our university to high standards every day, and it’s time for us to hold it to the standard of treating workers are people who deserve to live the same way we do.

Jazmynne is a sophmore at Duke University. She is one of the nine students who initiated the Allen Building Takeover.