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A first year’s perspective on living wage victory

November 8, 2019

This piece represents the opinion of the author.
Lily Anna Fullam

On October 21, Bowdoin students, employees and the broader community awoke to a surprising announcement that Bowdoin would be increasing wages for benefits-eligible hourly workers. Indeed, this was great news and a fantastic step towards achieving a better workplace for all Bowdoin employees, but President Clayton Rose’s refusal to acknowledge the powerful worker and student activism is both troubling and, sadly, expected.

This is my first year at Bowdoin, and so far I have found it to be a great and fairly welcoming place, though it is undeniable that there are also significant institutional problems. Before coming here, I had become aware of the activities of students and workers campaigning for better working conditions and a living wage through social media posts and articles I had stumbled across while researching the school. At first, I felt disheartened that the administration at a college like Bowdoin would oppose such initiatives, especially with the public persona it tries to foster for potential students. As I thought more on it, however, I was inspired by the level of student activism on this issue and was excited to be a part of a student body that was so invigorated and committed to real social change. Since arriving, I have not been disappointed, and being able to witness the power of students and workers here fighting so passionately on this issue has been a powerful experience.

However, the announcement would like us all to believe that this decision was exclusively one made out of some newfound kindness in the hearts of Bowdoin administrators towards the employees here. This is nothing more than a disrespectful slap in the face to the movement that housekeepers, other workers, organizations such as the BLA, BSG and the Orient as well as hundreds of other students, alumni and parents have built together—a movement that undeniably instilled fear in the Board of Trustees. Upwards of 2,000 people have participated in this movement by attending rallies, speaking out on social media and pledging to withhold donations from Bowdoin. This activism is a central reason for Bowdoin’s concession, and we must not allow the administration to rob this of its significance. We should use this first victory as a powerful message: collective action works to make necessary changes within powerful institutions.

This isn’t just about giving credit where credit is due, it’s about control of the narrative. Bowdoin would like to frame itself to the public eye as being an institution that cares about its workers, and what its employees, faculty, students and community have to say. This is sadly not true. President Rose’s email cited changing markets, yet what could have really changed in the markets so severely since July, when the College said the economy wasn’t ready for this level of compensation? When exactly did this grand change of heart happen? Why was this whole process conducted behind closed doors without input from workers or anyone else in the Bowdoin community?

Obviously, Bowdoin’s administration could never admit via mass email the reality of their moral failing and the true impetus behind this change. After all, they are counting on alumni and parents to donate once again with a good conscience. Though Bowdoin may never choose to be transparent, we can keep pushing. The decision to institute a $17 minimum wage by 2022 was the direct result of a concerted effort by workers, students and other community members. Most importantly, this victory is not the end by any means but instead just one part of our sustained effort to make a difference in our community for the common good.

Jackson Hansen is a member of the Class of 2023.

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