UMiss Housing Demands (UHD), a self-described group of six current and former community assistants (CA) and community desk assistants (CDA), posted an open letter anonymously on Twitter with demands that the university improves working conditions for student housing workers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. By the time of publication, the letter has 62 signatures from students, faculty, alumni and former housing workers.
The group’s demands are aimed at Chancellor Glenn Boyce and university administration, not the department of student housing, which they told The Daily Mississippian is “doing the best they can with what they were provided.” UHD representatives said they have emailed their demands to Boyce and Provost Noel Wilkin every day this week and hope to have some response by the end of the week, though they did not specify their plans should they not receive a response.
Student housing workers at universities across the country have begun demanding better working conditions and compensation amid the pandemic. Some student housing workers at the University of Michigan and Cornell University recently participated in strikes and public demonstrations. UHD said in an email that they worked with “organizers” on campus and student housing workers from other universities to create their demands.
Among the demands from UHD are hazard pay, more personal protective equipment, mandatory free COVID-19 testing for all on-campus residents, continued payment in the event of a student housing shut down, food and housing security for student workers and a commitment from the university to be more transparent with student workers.
The letter described an environment in student housing where workers are not being provided with enough personal protective equipment, and residents are reluctant to report their COVID-19 symptoms for fear of being shamed or ostracized. Since the letter was posted, CDAs have been informed that they will receive more masks from the university.
Several CAs told The Daily Mississippian that they were not made aware of the demands before they were posted publicly. Some student housing workers seem to support the demands, but others feel that the group should have reached out to more workers before making their statement public.
“I know some people are in support, but others are upset that they’ve had someone speak for them without asking what they want,” one CA said.
A UHD representative told The Daily Mississippian in an email that they gained input from some student housing workers, but most did not want to be involved with writing the demands for fear of retaliation from the university.
“While we would have preferred to have a majority of housing staff signed on from the start, the university has a history of discouraging organized labor on campus, and we wanted these demands to see light in order to gain support and allow us to reach housing workers across campus without interference from the university,” the email read.
The representative said that they did not have a way to reach out to all student housing workers at once, and they were afraid that if they tried to reach out to too many, they might alert a supervisor who would “shut them down.”
“We understand that some people may disagree with the way we did this, but we want to make it clear that we are not speaking on behalf of every student housing worker, only putting forth demands similar to those at universities where the situation is similar to ours, in hopes that it will inspire other student workers to join the call for these provisions without having to fear retaliation from our employer,” the email read.