Just Work course addresses the stigma around jobs

Students in this semester’s Just Work class, from left to right: Tanaka Chingonzo ’21, Aditi Chowbey ’21, Noelle Rotte ’20, Jenna Smith ’22, Chuck Kammer III, Biagio Shipman ’22, Hannah Sullivan ’20 and Kaitlin Khayat ’20 (Photo by Waverly Hart ’20).

Kaylee Liu

Contributing Writer

Just Work is a class defined as “an exploration of work with a focus on what makes work meaningful and what makes it dehumanizing.” Created by Chuck Kammer, profes- sor of religious studies and dean of academies of religion, it focuses on helping students learn and ex- plore the value of work, especially work rarely valued or highly com- pensated. It also includes an ex- periential portion where students work three to four hours a week in jobs such as housekeeping or food service. Originally offered as a First-Year Seminar, it has since become a full-fledged class offered every few years.

According to Aditi Chowbey ’22, the class “focuses on jobs that are usually described with the word ‘just’ before it and the stigmas they come with.” Yet, so many of these jobs people often deem unimport- ant or undeserving of respect are integral to society’s continued functioning;withoutcustodiansor groundskeepers, it would be near impossible to maintain an environ- ment conducive to a good quality of life. Just Work focuses heavily on what Kammer terms the “social construction” of the value of work and questions why society values certain types of work over others. Using logic and ethical theory, the class aims to explore these differ- ences and tries to find some rea- sonable explanation for the divi- sions in value of work, and how “social constructions of race, class, and gender” impact this.

For Kammer, a “critical aspect of the class is to break down barriers on the campus and particularly to help students see the ‘unseen’ work that makes life at the College possible.” How many of us think about the custodians who clean our dorms in the mornings before some of us are even awake, and how many of us think about the people who have to sweep up bro- ken beer bottles on Sundays after a weekend of partying? How many of us consider all the seemingly invisible labor that maintains our college?

Thankfully, Just Work has made a huge impact on its students – Chowbey states that she “works with the grounds crew and [has] never had a bad day working with them. Every day I go to class or work, I feel more homesick and grateful for everything my parents have done for me (in the best way), especially being an international student.” Just Work has helped her to gain “an appreciation for grow- ing up in India” and has helped her realize “how it has taught me to be aware of my privileges and being acommunitymemberandnotan individual.” It’s even helped her learn more about “American life and the capitalist mindset,” help- ing to bridge cross-cultural barri- ers between international students and the local community.

For another student, Kaitlin Khayat ’20, Just Work has helped her to be “more understanding of people’s life circumstances” and she finds the experience to be a defining part of what a liberal arts education should be like. Khayat is deeply reflective about Just Work — she feels “privileged to hear staff members’ thoughts on a shifting work environment with discussion on the personalization of space and individual expression through clothing choice” and notes that custodial office spaces are no longer allowed to have décor with- out the Wooster logo,and that there is talk of eradicating custodial office space altogether.

Khayat also notes that there has been a slight crackdown on cus- todial uniforms, with a decreased budget and pre-selected color choices of black, gold, grey and white. Just Work has helped open her eyes to the difficulties that staff members face at the College and she now believes that “life circum- stances are outside of one’s control the majority of the time,” and that “American society is individualistic, and this has caused people to be so concerned with their own lives that the knowledge of systemic power and issues, and how those affect people, do not initially come into consideration.”

Noelle Rotte ’20 says that the class has made her more aware of the work that creates the world around her. “Every time I turn on a light now, I think of a coal miners job; whenever I think of the fruits I eat, I think of migrant workers; whenever I shower in the locker rooms on campus, I think of the custodians who have cleaned it time and time again,” said Rotte.

The interconnectedness of all lives has become apparent to the students taking this course. Jenna Smith ’22 says that “While I have only seen a glimpse of the lived ex- periences and struggles of hourly- wage workers, it has been integral to my time at Wooster in treating others with respect and valuing their efforts to provide for them- selves and their families. I would absolutely recommend this course to anyone that is eager to build relationships, recognize inequality, or serve as a positive force on and off campus.”

Just Work is a program that has helped open many students’ eyes to not only the value and meaning of work but the devalu- ation of it and the associated struggles. Interestingly, it’s a re- ligion class — work in its ideal form is “a calling, not a job” reads a quote by Stud Terkel included in the class syllabus. It encour- ages students to rethink the value of work to individuals and soci- ety, to think about what makes work a chore and what makes it a quest for meaning, and to undo their own ingrained biases.