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Dear Decaturish – The importance of shared meals, just wages, and community at Agnes Scott

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Dear Decaturish – The importance of shared meals, just wages, and community at Agnes Scott

Agnes Scott College. Photo by Dean Hesse.
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Agnes Scott College has provided a response and it appears at the end of this letter.

Dear Decaturish,

As many of us sit down this week to share a meal with loved ones, we want to call attention to a specific indignity facing people who work on Agnes Scott’s campus. Agnes Scott faculty and staff are traditionally entitled to discounted meals in the dining hall. The full price for non-Agnes Scott employees is $12.50, but employees are supposed to eat for $3.21. This meal benefit has historically made the dining hall a place where students, faculty, and staff can commune over meals.

However, as Aramark, the company with whom Agnes Scott expanded its contract in August 2021, has brought on temporary employees to fill positions left by retirements, resignations, and extended leave, those temporary employees have not been extended the same meal benefit. Students recently met with Agnes Scott’s Chief Financial Officer, Dr. Nicole Long, to discuss concerns that this meal benefit could be taken away from even more people, but she would not commit to preserving it. Thus, we want to publicize this issue in hopes that, when held accountable by a wider community, Agnes Scott College will choose to both operate more transparently and to prioritize people over profit, as it has at times in the past.

This particular material inequality is accompanied by other indignities: people being accused of stealing food, being told they should not be seen taking their breaks anywhere on campus besides the dining hall, and losing access to disposable tupperware that used to allow them to take food with them. As students, our curriculum reminds us over and over that each of us has the power and the responsibility to create an inclusive environment on campus. We want our institution to use its power to do the same thing it asks of us.

From the perspective of many students, the contract with Aramark appears to provide Agnes Scott with a way to dodge accountability for working conditions on campus. For example, Agnes Scott publicly states that it pays all employees what the school deems ‘a living wage’ without sharing that there is an asterisk attached to that statement– that this commitment does not extend to numerous outsourced departments such as Facilities, Dining, Landscaping, HVAC, and ITS. The effectiveness of a recent two-year overdue raise for Dining employees has been undermined by cuts in work hours. Additionally, people are randomly shifted between Agnes Scott and other Atlanta-area schools that contract with Aramark, depriving everyone of the experience of seeing familiar faces each day. We remain steadfast in our demand that Agnes Scott break its contract with Aramark and take responsibility for fostering a democratic and just workplace.

This week is a particularly pertinent time to recognize that the processes of colonization and exploitation through which the city of Decatur and Agnes Scott developed are ongoing. According to the Beacon Hill Black Alliance for Human Rights’ “A People’s History of Decatur,” Agnes Scott owns the land it does as a result of the First Treaty of Indian Springs and the donations of George Washington Scott, a slaveholder and Confederate colonel. The dispossession of both land and labor on this Mvskoke are intertwined, and any institution that says it is invested in truth-telling about the errors of its past should be working just as hard to ensure it does not perpetuate injustice in the present.

As students, we reaffirm that everyone whose labor contributes to our campus deserves access to a fair share of its resources. Ensuring everyone has access to one of the most basic rituals of community, shared meals, is one small but meaningful action Agnes Scott can take to honor its stated commitment to social justice.

Signed,

The Agnes Scott Living Wage Campaign, Julia Rademacher-Wedd, Amari Kedar, Emma Anne Stephens, Kasira Nantah, E. Dawn Redd, Francess Pujeh, Anjali Kunnatha, Julia Norcross, Mina Goldsman, Irène Chapeau, Grace Walker, Edie Irwin, Indie Lorick, Belinda Grace Brooks, Kennedy McNeal, Nicole Fong, Isabella Cordell, J’Lynn Vellon, Jo Higgins, Jasper Potts, Nora Fairbanks, Kimberley Sanabria, Claire Lewis, EV McGovern, Katie Carr, Natalie Trimble, Kylie Roach, Kylah Adams

Here is the response provided by Agnes Scott College:

Dear Decaturish,

The leadership at Agnes Scott College appreciates the concerns and feedback provided in an open letter from members of the Living Wage Campaign. The college does not publicly discuss internal or contractual matters, but the administration respects our students’ commitment to meaningful discussion and wants to here add the following.

The college values the individuals employed through our managed service providers and works diligently to ensure they receive equitable treatment consistent with other faculty and staff. While we believe not all of the information provided by the student letter is accurate, we will continue to work with students to provide viable solutions for their concerns.

We would also like to thank Decaturish.com for allowing the college to respond to the Living Wage Campaign open letter.

Sincerly,

Leocadia Zak

President Agnes Scott College

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