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Student support is contingent on self-interest

We all know that last week on Wednesday, Jan. 30, classes were canceled due to the cold temperatures, a shocking and unprecedented move on the part of an institution which has historically prided itself on consisting of a “hearty bunch.” However, some of you may or may not be aware that before the official cancellation had been announced, a Change.org petition advocating for this cancellation was circulated throughout the day on Tuesday.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this petition or the decision to sign it, the outsized level of support it received from the student body, for how shortly it existed, is frustrating and, frankly, appalling when contrasted with the support shown for the Living Wage Campaign (LWC)’s petition.

For those of you who were studying off-campus, took a leave of absence, suffer from a crappy memory or perhaps just choose to avoid engaging with or caring about things that happen on this campus, here’s a brief recap: Last semester, the LWC held an extensive two-week outreach campaign in yet another attempt to convince this College that our hourly staff deserve a living wage. 

While there are other, meaningful actions which many students did engage in to show support, such as showing up for the LWC’s protest, I think that signing a petition is really the bare minimum meaningful action one that can take to show support for a cause. As such, I think that the number of signatures on a petition is a good proxy for how much the general student body cares about a given issue.

Now over the course of those two weeks, Living Wage enacted an extensive outreach campaign in order to promote their petition. Members spent hours of their free time sending emails to clubs, making posts on social media and tabling in order to gather as many signatures as possible in support of securing a living wage of $14.08 for hourly workers.

And what, you might ask, was the result of all of their hard work? By the end of the first day: around 400 signatures. And the total number of signatures gathered through a combination of both an online Change.org petition and physical one over those two weeks of intensive outreach by a chartered student organization that has worked tirelessly over multiple years towards this goal? Barely 1,300.

Meanwhile, the number of signatures garnered by the petition to cancel classes? Over 1,400.

For those of you who didn’t happen come across the petition to cancel classes as it was active or don’t recall the organizational efforts it entailed, I’ll briefly recount them for you now: the petition was started early on Tuesday morning. By the time classes were officially announced as canceled on Tuesday at 6:54 p.m., it had accumulated over 1,400 signatures. No tabling. No email blasts to student organizations. No student organization coordinating anything. Instead, likely just a couple of students who decided to start a petition, shared it with their friends, family and social media, which then proceeded to explode with support. Over the course of maybe 12 hours (give or take), it easily surpassed the support garnered by LWC over two full weeks.

Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards the individuals who created the petition, nor do I think that they necessarily did anything wrong by making it. I am also not trying to claim that a more emphatic support for the LWC petition would have achieved its goals, or that the cancellation petition influenced the actual decision to cancel classes. I’m just trying to point out that when their own physical discomfort and the potential for losing one day of classes are at stake, student mobilization is vast and swift. But for as much as the student body of this campus loves to lambast the administration for their hypocrisy and misplaced priorities, when given the opportunity to do the very bare minimum to show concern for hourly workers, it basically dragged its feet.

On the LWC’s petition page, they requested the following: “If you stand with our workers, please sign and share this petition as widely as you can.” I think it’s clear that, when it comes down to it, the students of this campus stand more for themselves than for the well-being of our workers. 

Olivia Hall, a Contributing Writer for the Voice, can be reached for comment at OHall19@wooster.edu.

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