To our essential workers at Rice: Thank you
On a typical morning this fall, on-campus students might drop by the servery for breakfast on the way to a class and pass contracted construction workers building the new Sid Richardson College dorms. We take weekly COVID-19 tests at centers staffed with volunteers, attend classes led by professors with little to no prior experience in online instruction and receive emails from student leaders who have had to take on enormous responsibilities beyond their job descriptions. Behind our daily actions are hundreds of people working hard and going above and beyond to ensure that we can maintain a semblance of normality in our college experience.
But we’d be remiss if we didn’t extend the biggest thank you to our essential workers on campus — from our chefs to our custodial staffers, those who keep our surfaces disinfected and those who fill our disposable containers with food. The ones who don’t have the option to work remotely and can’t opt out of contact with students. Rice couldn’t operate without you.
Despite their designation as essential workers and heightened exposure to contagion, Rice’s Housing and Dining staffers do not receive hazard pay, as confirmed to us by Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby. This, frankly, is outrageous. Without these workers, our campus could not have opened in the middle of a pandemic, and yet they have been refused such important accommodations. To us, this is a painful indication of where the administration’s priorities lie.
As students adjust to the new reality of on-campus life, it’s impossible not to notice that things are different — the way we interact with people, the spaces we live in, the food we eat. All of these are now limited; we can’t hang out without masks and six feet of distance, and we don’t have as wide of a food spread as we used to.
Although complaints about food varieties and dietary restrictions are valid, know that H&D has faced numerous obstacles in continuing to provide food for us, from pandemic-induced supply chain issues causing lapses in food availability and shipments to social distancing requirements imposing practical constraints. Despite facing these obstacles, H&D has always shared the same message: if you have a request or feedback, tell them. Even before the pandemic, the chefs at each servery went out of their way to communicate with students, wanting to learn more about our food likes and dislikes, allergies and dietary restrictions. If you’re facing an issue with food availability, you can do something — reach out to your servery’s chef, or your college’s food rep.
We know that everyone who chose to live on campus was promised some semblance of a return to normalcy, cue inspirational video. However, the quality of campus life simply cannot be the same as it’s been in years past. The agreement to live with restrictions and shortages is implicit in the agreement to live on campus. We’re all doing our best to adjust.
We want to stress the importance of following campus safety protocol and acting responsibility — not just for yourself but for all the staffers who don’t have the opportunities to avoid contact with you. Unlike some faculty and staff members who have the chance to work from home, the H&D workers who sanitize your college and prepare your food are required to be on campus and, as such, have a greater risk of exposure to COVID-19.
Editor’s Note: Thresher editorials are collectively written by the members of the Thresher’s editorial board. Current members include Rishab Ramapriyan, Ivanka Perez, Amy Qin, Elizabeth Hergert, Ella Feldman, Katelyn Landry, Rynd Morgan, Savannah Kuchar, Simona Matovic and Tina Liu.
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How should we discuss food, then? I don’t want to be misunderstood as advising against all food-related conversations. I feel quite the opposite: eating is one of humanity’s oldest social rituals. It’s meant to bring us together. We’re at our best when we engage in conversations that center the enjoyment of food rather than its nutritional content.
The first wave of COVID-19 erupted in the U.S. in early 2020. Rice responded quickly: During March 9-15, classes for the week preceding Spring Break were canceled, students were instructed not to return to campus after Spring Break, and instruction after Spring Break was made fully remote. This quick reaction to the pandemic was typical of many organizations and localities all around the country, as it became clear that social distancing was then the only effective way to slow down the spread of the disease. This seems to have worked and, by early May, the first wave was somewhat subsiding. The Rice administration then tasked the Academic Restart Committee with the mission of “Return to Rice.”
To be sure, a poetic analogy between music and our differences will not resolve any issues directly. It can, however, remind us of our shared humanity. It can get us back in touch with our nature as social animals. It is a nature that is often oppressed by the individualism in our capitalistic society that encourages competition, putting too much focus on the dissonances for our own good.