Friday, February 19, 2021

Dartmouth Dining Association staff and the "Dartmouth Experience"

“One would not expect that the woman who scans students’ I.D.s at Food Court and the man who sprinkles sand on the icy sidewalks would have a voice on Dartmouth campus” – Erin Loback ’99, News Editor, The Dartmouth

Dartmouth is a large and ever-changing entity. While the “Dartmouth Community'' is something that is often talked about around campus, there is not much consensus on who this “community” encompasses. During my term of residence at Rauner, I continue to wonder whether the staff of Dartmouth College are widely considered to be part of this community. Quotations like the one above lead me to believe that they are not.

For example, Local Union 560 has been present on Dartmouth’s campus since 1966 and is composed of the service workers at the college, such as those who work in Dining Services, FO&M, and other service departments. Those who make up these departments are often from areas outside of the Upper Valley and come from working class backgrounds, sometimes hailing from a familial line of Dartmouth staff. Over the course of 55 years the union that represents these workers has achieved fair pay and benefits for those who keep the campus running, but not without trial or tribulation. Despite these advancements, those who are in the union are some of the lowest paid staff at Dartmouth and yet they are often the first to receive the blows from an economic crisis.

Following the 2008 market crash, Dartmouth announced a $100 million budget cut and, as a result, would be laying off staff in the near future. The proposed layoffs fueled a debate on campus about what exactly was the “Dartmouth Experience”. President Kim emphasized “preserving the most important aspects of ‘The Dartmouth Experience’” whilst conducting cuts and layoffs. Students Stand with Staff, an unrecognized student organization that stood in solidarity with the service union, launched a poster campaign in response to both the layoffs and the capital campaign. The posters displayed a picture of a Dartmouth student with a staff member with the phrase “This is __ and they are a part of my Dartmouth experience.” While this campaign was met with mixed response, it called into question a lot of the issues that I have identified in my research this winter. Dartmouth, in its most recent iterations, does not seem to think that the people who labor to keep the college alive are integral to the Dartmouth experience.

Dartmouth Students for Staff "This is __" campaign poster
As a fellow, I have focused on those who work in Dining Services because, of all the service staff, they often have more time to build meaningful relationships with students. Dartmouth Dining has evolved greatly over the last two centuries and, through my research, I have noticed a shift toward commercialization and automation that coincides with similar trends in the American economy. Despite these changes, Dartmouth Dining employees still pride themselves on catering to students' needs and playing a role in their wellbeing. For example, in 1994, Union President Earl Sweet told The Dartmouth that the union decided against a sick-out because “we [the union] work for the students. We don’t want to do work stoppages or do anything to hurt the students.” It is clear through this interview and others that many Dartmouth staff members deeply care about the student population that they are serving and often form meaningful long lasting relationships. If Dartmouth service workers are not only providing the services outlined in their job descriptions, but also emotional support to students, why are they not seen as integral to the Dartmouth experience?

To examine the Dartmouth Students Stand with Staff records, ask for MS-1239.

Posted for Londyn Crenshaw '22, recipient of a Historical Accountability Student Research Fellowship for the 2021 Winter term. The Historical Accountability Student Research Program provides funding for Dartmouth students to conduct research with primary sources on a topic related to issues of inclusivity and diversity in the college's past. For more information, visit the program's website.