Brooke Skiba

Features Editor

It’s common knowledge that Wooster is a small campus — it’s impossible to go anywhere without recognizing familiar faces —and in many ways this makes us a tight-knit community. Nevertheless, there are still divides on campus that many are working to break down — the separation between students, hourly workers, staff and administration. In an effort to bring these communities together, Religious Studies Professor Charles Kammer developed an innovative new course for the current fall semester: Just Work.

Just Work is a religious studies course, though it deals with religion indirectly. The class’ main focus is to create a situation in which students are able to engage with and learn from hourly workers in housekeeping, grounds and dining services. The 11 students in the class each work a three to four hour block in one of these three areas once a week all semester alongside regular hourly workers. The students receive an extra quarter credit rather than wages, and they also convene in class twice a week where workers are invited to take part in the class and share their experiences and insights during discussion.

The class title itself has two implications. On one hand, the class is about “just” working and what that experience is like from the student and hourly worker perspective. The class also plays on the word “just” and deals with the question of social justice: How do we go about assigning social and monetary worth to different types of jobs?

“Why is it that a faculty member such as myself gets paid very nicely?” Kammer said, “I have a huge amount of control over my schedule. I can take two hours for lunch if I want to… but if I’m an hourly worker I get 30 minutes of break time for the whole day in food services…So what am I doing that gives me all these extra perks that they’re not doing? How do we decide what kind of work has more value than others and how do we reflect that in various levels of compensation?”

Kammer is also participating in the work aspect of the course by serving food in Lowry once a week. He said, “I can tell you that three hours of doing that is more tiring than anything else I’m doing in my day. But if I were being paid I would be paid at a much lower salary.”

Paige Ambord ’14 and Aaron Brown ’14 find the class and the work component to be very rewarding. Brown works with the  grounds crew for his work block and Ambord works with housekeeping. In both instances, the two have found they have learned a lot about their co-worker’s lives and about how students’ lives are viewed from an outside perspective.

Brown has developed bonds with all the grounds workers he has worked with, and even reported that one worker is bringing him goose jerky to try for the first time. He added, “I was really impressed with how willing they are to let students into their lives… There’s sometimes a perception on the other side that students would not be liked by grounds, custodial, and dining services — by in large they like us and enjoy talking to us, sometimes even making a hobby of learning new things about us.”

Ambord has similarly enjoyed getting to know her coworkers in housekeeping. One of whom, Christy Haun, attends the class each week and has appreciated the opportunity to share her day to day experiences with the students. Ambord expressed that it is eye-opening to see student life from another perspective. Cleaning up dorms and houses after an eventful weekend can be an unpleasant task, yet Ambord was impressed with how much the workers do still love the students. Haun said, “I want [students] to realize that I am a person who has one of the lowest jobs on the totem pole at the College. I come to work every day with a smile on my face and try to stay in a positive mood. I love working here even though some days are harder than others.”

Overall in the course, Brown has so far taken away a greater understanding of how society constructs socioeconomic status. He said, “I know some people, including myself, have a tendency to judge someone based on the kind of career they have or the lifestyle choices they have to make — at the end of the day I take out of it that there is some sort of larger scale socioeconomic reconstruction that needs to occur, particularly in the U.S.”

Haun relayed that she’s had the same experiences with stereotyping based on her career. She added, “I hope that this class can help everyone realize that it takes more than one person to make this campus run and that we are all important in the roles that we perform. So next time you see someone you haven’t ever talked to around campus, smile, introduce yourself and get to know the people that you are around every day.”

On a similar note, this past week the College has celebrated Custodian Appreciation Week. The Lowry Art Wall has sheets of paper put up for students to leave notes for each of the custodians. Students are encouraged to show their appreciation for these workers. “I hope that the students realize that a smile and thank you or just acknowledgement goes a long way in the everyday lives of the people that help make this campus work.,” Haun said. The custodians and grounds and dining service workers are essential employees of the College. Kammer asked us to consider this fact, “If we have a snow day, they put out an email that ‘only essential college personnel’ should come in, and that’s not faculty.”

The Just Work class with Professor Kammer will be offered again next fall, and though it does involve a significant time commitment, everyone involved has said it is an experience they recommend.