Four sections of Law School students voted to use discretionary funds to host lunch events with striking dining hall workers, despite the reservations of school administrators.
Last Wednesday, Harvard University Dining Services workers began their historic strike after a months-long contract negotiation stalemate with the University, and shortly thereafter several first-year students began floating the idea of using section funds to provide food to workers.
First-year Law students are divided into seven subgroups—called sections—of students who take all of their mandatory first-year courses together. The office of the Dean of Students allocates sections discretionary funds to use for community-building activities each year.
Section social committees began discussing the proposal to use funds to buy food for the striking workers with their respective sections last week. According to Law School spokesperson Michelle B. Deakin, those discussions inspired “robust disagreement.” First-year law student and social committee member Zach Sosa said some students raised concerns about the use of funds potentially alienating students who disagreed with the strike.
In the midst of these discussions, Law School Dean of Students Marcia L. Sells circulated an email to section social committee members cautioning them against deciding in favor of using funds to support strikers.
“Administration is not providing food at any of our events during strike periods. We were not planning on bringing outside food for any events,” Sells wrote in the email. “It does not seem to make sense for us to encourage with Section Funds for students to bring in food to feed workers who are on strike.”
She expressed concern that debate over the issue “seems to have become quite divisive” and stood contrary to the community-building intention of the funds. Sells encouraged students to use the funds to hold events featuring HUDS speakers or solicit personal contributions to purchase food instead.
Sections conducted online polls to decide the question, and four ultimately decided to use school funding to hold meal events, while other sections chose to pool individual student donations. One section used these personal contributions to buy 24 boxes of pizza for workers last week, according to Local 26 union spokesperson Tiffany Ten Eyck.
For first-year Law student Alexandra Rawlings, using section funds rather than personal contributions was part of the point of the proposal.
“Half of the point was like ‘Hey, you guys won’t use your money to take care of your employees, but we want to use it to do that’ so that symbolic decision—which didn’t actually happen for my section—was pretty important,” she said.
Sosa’s section decided to use school funds to purchase pizza and sodas for a lunchtime discussion it held with HUDS employees Thursday in Harvard Yard. Students asked workers about their demands and the current status of bargaining sessions with the University—negotiations which both Harvard and union representatives said are unlikely to end soon.
Sosa said the event was proposed as a means of engaging with workers and involving first-years in Law student efforts to support the strike.
“The whole section idea really just came from a group of 1Ls who wanted to find a way for us to get involved as well as to supplement some of the activism the second and third year Law students are doing,” he said.
Law School student groups Reclaim Harvard Law and the Harvard National Lawyers Guild have released statements publicly endorsing the strike, and held a speakout event featuring HUDS workers in the school’s student lounge last month. They also published a joint statement last week in favor of a proposal for a HUDS-specific task force on diversity. Most recently, the Law School student government passed a resolution Wednesday in support of the strike.
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