Though bell-bottoms and daisy chains remain relics of the ’60s, student activism at Harvard is anything but history. SLAM, the Student Labor Action Movement, has become increasingly vocal in the past few months. Harvard students are likely to encounter SLAM’s campaign against layoffs on an average stroll through the yard—perhaps in the form of student activists holding signs, waving banners, or sporting screen-printed t-shirts branded with SLAM’s polemical slogan, “Greed is the New Crimson.”
As the school year draws to a close, the campaign has been ramping up its activities and turning heads. The question is: will SLAM be able to turn the right heads—the heads that make budgeting decisions—before students move out and the money is doled out?
“We’re trying to stay as much in contact and try to be as visible as we can around campus to show that this is a problem that is not going to go away,” says SLAM member Johnny F. Bowman ’11. “Right now, we’re going to start being a little more creative with the ways in which we make ourselves visible.”
Part of SLAM’s strategy is to make its message as pervasive as possible on campus. According to Bowman, SLAM hopes to show its support for workers in some way every day.
The campaign is a multi-media effort, and this recent surge in activity is evident in SLAM’s blog, which is updated almost daily. For those desiring real-time updates, SLAM is now posting its ins and outs in a more distilled form on Twitter.com.
This week, SLAM, in collaboration with the Harvard College Democrats, released a Youtube.com video about the human cost of layoffs which already has over 2,000 views. Produced by Warren S. Loegering ’12, the video tells the story of Bedardo Sola, a worker who was laid off March 16th but rehired due to student advocacy. Sola refers to Harvard students as the workers’ “secret weapon.”
SLAM activists realize that the student voice is a powerful “secret weapon” and seek to use it to call attention to the workers’ plight.
“[The workers] don’t have the same access to people that can make changes at Harvard as the students do,” Alyssa M. Aguilera ’08-’09 says. “We want to help get the stories of workers out.”
In order to accomplish this, SLAM hosted a panel, composed of workers, that aimed to give Harvard employees a chance to speak. SLAM also staged a rally outside of the Holyoke center, which had an impressive student as well as worker turnout.
“There were a lot of people at the rally I had never seen at SLAM events before,” says Zach P. Hughes ’12, a member of SLAM. “Seeing such a large response from the student body was really encouraging.”
SLAM has helped articulate the workers voices not only through words, but numbers. As of earlier this week, 624 students, parents, alumni, student organizations, and faculty have signed onto SLAM’s petition for the prevention of layoffs and the restoration of lost jobs.
INFORMATION FOR THE ADMINSTRATION
Though the increase in student support is encouraging, SLAM has heard little in response from the Harvard Administration. Though five SLAM representatives met with President Drew Faust during her office hours last week, they are unsure if their meeting will have an effect.
Earlier this month, students visited the Harvard Management Company in Boston and requested a meeting to discuss layoffs. SLAM representatives were able to meet with the HMC earlier this year, and found their discussion productive. Their most recent trip did not end as fruitfully; the HMC had changed its visitor policy such that all appointments required arrangements in advance.
“This time when we came into visit, we overhead the secretary say ‘uh oh,’” Bowman says. “They had changed the visitor policy after our first visit. They apparently viewed it as a hostile act.”
“Students and workers are systematically excluded from the decision making process, and they haven’t offered any other ways for us to engage in meaningful dialogue,” Aguilera adds.
SLAM member Seth A. Pearce ’12 emphasized that the campaign does not seek to personally attack Harvard administrators. “I think whenever you’re criticized, you’re bound to feel attacked, but that isn’t the intention. We’re just trying to saturate them with information.”
The administration claims that there are expenditures it is locked into paying each year and cannot cut back on—a financial burden that is compounded by the costs of expansions projects and additions to the faculty. Workers salaries account for a sizable percentage of expendable costs, and for this reason Harvard has offered a retirement incentive package so it can lighten its financial load without laying off as many workers.
“A PLACE OF LOVE”
One the main of counter-arguments SLAM faces is that, given the economic crisis, many companies are having to lay off workers and Harvard is not any different.
“I think this is misled,” says SLAM member Remeike J.B. Forbes ’11. “It’s kind of peculiar to see Harvard as analogous to GM, because Harvard is a nonprofit institution. When GM lays off workers they also decrease in production as well. Harvard is not a for-profit institution, its purpose is to serve a public good.”
According to Taj E. Tucker ’12, a protester at SLAM’s recent rally, “We have too many luxuries here to be cutting down on peoples livelihoods. There are other sacrifices the community should make before laying off workers.”
SLAM claims that it is interested in helping the administration brainstorm more creative ways to tailor the budget such that layoffs would not be necessary. Their blog points to other academic institutions, such as Stanford and Washington University, where top administrators are taking pay cuts of up to 10%.
“Harvard should be a model for the world,” Pearce says. “And part of that is having a community that values all of its members. Our campaign really comes from fact that we love the Harvard community, and it would be a tragedy for it to be broken up by layoffs. It’s coming from a place of love rather than a place of rebellion.”