The Associated Student Body (ASB) is currently collecting donations to provide Thanksgiving baskets for families in need this holiday season. More specifically, through its Adopt-A-Basket initiative, ASB hopes to provide Thanksgiving meals to members of the “Ole Miss family” –– employees of the University of Mississippi. Similarly, Books and Bears will begin in earnest after the Thanksgiving break as the yearly “holiday project that benefits University of Mississippi campus service workers, custodians and landscape crews.”
These are commendable causes that have been organized for several years. I and many other members of the campus community –– students, staff and faculty — will undoubtedly contribute. As we do so, however, I encourage members of the campus community to think about the need for these charitable programs in the first place. These donations will be going to workers on this campus who are not paid enough to put together their own Thanksgiving meal and buy gifts during the holiday season. While charitable actions like these are commendable, they are not enough. The problem isn’t lack of charity, it’s that we don’t pay all workers on campus a living wage.
At the University of Mississippi, an estimated 20-25% of all full-time and part-time workers earn less than $15 per hour. In addition, in the past decade, many workers have had only minimal, if any, cost-of-living raises. At the same time, the cost of living in the Oxford area has risen faster than the wages and salaries of campus workers. While we are collecting donations for food and then presents, we should also begin to push for more systemic change. ASB, Faculty Senate and Staff Council should author resolutions demanding a living wage for all campus workers and that campus and state leadership take action to make that happen.
Conor Dowling is an associate professor of political science and a member of United Campus Workers-Mississippi.