The Social Reform Club (SRC) hosted an informational meeting and dialogue on Saturday afternoon to discuss issues concerning Goshen College's student employment manual. Or, SRC leaders say, the lack of an adequate one.
The conversation about the policies within the student employment manual began in September 2012 when the SRC began to investigate a student's immediate termination from an on-campus job. Their question was simple. Was the termination carried out fairly?
In a search for policies, they reported that they were unable to find the manual after looking online and asking several faculty members. The fired individual then brought up the issue with the on-campus employer. Without sufficient answers, the student said, SRC members contacted the administration.
“We care for this college, we care for this place, and that’s why we’re doing this,” said Vasti Rosado, a junior SRC leader. “We want to make a change for the future of students on campus in order to improve everyone’s experience at Goshen College.”
Administrators, though some have since admitted a lack of communication between departments that hire students, state that there has been an employment manual available since 2004. Bill Born, director of Student Life, reported that the document was created by Anita Stalter, vice president for academic affairs and academic dean, as a resource but not as a requirement.
“The current student employment manual linked to the career services [web]site is currently understood as more of a guide for information purposes for students and departments who hire students," said Born. "It's a culmination of multiple documents and procedures in a central location for reference.”
Nevertheless, the SRC and others are working toward fairer policies.
Abi Tsigi, a senior, has also played a significant role in raising awareness on campus regarding fair student employment. For four and a half days, Tsigi ate nothing but nuts and water. His cause? To raise awareness about the lack of attention to fair treatment of student employees. On March 11, he posted a letter he sent to President Jim Brenneman on Facebook, announcing that he would begin a hunger strike until his demand for an audience with the president’s council was met.
“I’m starving for myself and for social justice to expose things swept under the rug,” Tsigi said at the SRC meeting on Saturday.
He insists that the decision was not for anyone but himself and to raise awareness on certain issues he has personally dealt with while on Goshen’s campus. The most pressing for him has been the issue of the lack of established policies regarding student employment.
“The handbook is vague and generalized, so it’s not working in the student’s favor,” said Tsigi. “The hope I have for this conversation is transparency about issues that will start social and institutional change."
Both SRC leaders and Tsigi insist that his decision to strike and the mission of the SRC are completely unrelated, despite Tsigi's previous work as a SRC leader.
“I am on a hunger strike about a personal grievance that you have no idea about,” Tsigi said at the meeting, addressing concerns that his actions seemed to reflect on the international student body and the SRC club. “It isn’t about being Mennonite or not Mennonite. I’m not being racist and I’m not generalizing. But, I’m an international student and that counts. The hunger strike is for me. Through this, Goshen is being exposed to transparency and dialogue.”
Abi’s strike, which ended late last week after being granted a meeting with the president’s council, has already begun to elicit movement in the administration toward reevaluating the manual and its policies.
After an initial meeting in October that the SRC held with Bill Born, Norm Bakhit, director of human resources, and Skip Barnett, international student adviser, questions were asked regarding employment policies and international student support. The group has worked to continue the climb toward action beyond conversation.
Among the topics discussed on Saturday was a call for greater support for international students, which Tsigi also reflected in his talk about his hunger strike. The SRC suggests that the college provide a support team for international students, transportation, academic and emotional support, an international student survival guide, help with paperwork regarding off-campus internships, and a database for hiring and application positions for students.
Right now, however, the SRC's first step is working with the issue of student employment.
“One of the key issues being raised by the SRC is that of understanding and interpretation of this [student employment] document, including to what degree it is legally binding," Born said. "It's a fair question and one we will continue to engage with the SRC with specific plans for clarity and communication."
On Monday, Born will meet with President Jim Brenneman to further discuss means to improve awareness about student employment policies as well as more international student support.