When I ultimately decided to attend last week’s Student Assembly on Income Inequality, part of me was concerned about appearing like a jerk for being, I predicted, one of the few people present who disagreed with the bill writers’ proposal to up the wages of Macalester’s subcontracted lowest-paid workers and put a ratio limit on President Brian Rosenberg’s salary. But the larger part of me felt that it was important to attend the assembly if I wanted my voice to be heard.
As I had predicted, I was one of the few people in attendance who had the slightest bit of opposition to the bill and bill-writers, and the first person to publicly say so. This was one of the first times I felt moved enough to attend a political event at Macalester with more of a purpose than just to listen. Another reason I chose to go and speak was because of the number of people I spoke with beforehand who had qualms with the bill-writers’ approach but who felt they would rather not go for fear of feeling unwelcomed. Here are some of my thoughts after attending.
Publicly stating my more moderate stance was at first uncomfortable, but necessary. One of my former professors, who taught one of my favorite classes that I have taken at Macalester and whom I highly respect, spoke in support of the bill. Following his words with mine felt a little like betrayal, but I realized that being vulnerable in speaking about my opposition was the only way that my moderate viewpoint would even be noticed as something to consider. As opposed to writing anonymously on Mac Confessions or complaining to friends that Mac is welcoming only if you are radically liberal, and that I wish it were more politically diverse, I feel that there may be more political diversity that students are simply afraid to voice. A few people told me they were surprised that I opposed the bill, but no one attacked me for my beliefs. Mac students are already hyper aware of their language and generally respectful people; it is something to keep in mind that you will never know whether or not your voice is welcome in a space until you speak. Chances are, at least one other person will agree with you. In this case, many told me they did, and some even spoke in agreement with me later in the assembly as well.
Now, in Macalester fashion, my critique of the bill-writers: What does it cost to be an elite school? The issue I have with the bill-writers is that they elected to attend an elite college yet are critical of Macalester for being an elite college. Yes, President Brian Rosenberg makes a ton of money. And yes, the lowest paid Bon Appetit and Highlander workers do not (in comparison to an elite college’s president, but how about to workers of other organizations in the same line of work?). How the bill-writers expect and find it reasonable to set the terms for the Bon Appetit company, not to mention the salary of our own President, who fundraises to make it possible for Macalester’s student body to be racially and economically diverse, I still do not understand.
As one of many students benefitting from financial aid brought in by President Rosenberg, who are we to tell him how to do his job? Clearly, there must be some relationship between the president’s success and effectiveness, his employment here for an unusually long twelve years and the number of students fortunate enough to attend Macalester because of the college’s financial aid opportunities. Quality leadership in higher education costs a lot.
The bill-writers have argued that the way in which money is spent speaks volumes about a person or institution’s values. As I see it, one of the most effective ways for the bill-writers to show their dissatisfaction would be to take their $57,691 of yearly expenses or, for those who expressed being on financial aid, allow these expenses to be allocated elsewhere, and transfer to a different college that better exhibits the values the bill-writers are looking for in an elite institution.
I’m friends with some of them, so I wouldn’t actually wish them to leave, but this kind of rally makes me wonder how much students really care about income inequality versus having something — anything — to rally around as a cohesive Macalester campus.
Something for which I admire the bill-writers is that they organized the Student Assembly, in the middle of our campus, outdoors for passersby to hear and be a part of, and created a rare sense of campus-wide camaraderie, despite my disagreement with the actual petition.
Many Macalester students are extremely involved in a certain niche, which is great for improving campus policies and conversations around specific, often serious, topics, but detracts from overall Macalester pride. We need more school spirit: pep rallies, more non-politically charged events in the vain of Push Ball, class competitions, definitive Macalester colors more visible on campus. In the last month, three PFs have asked me what the deal is with Macalester’s school colors after being confused about the white/red, blue/orange, purple, globe in orange/plaid, Scot logo/mascot.
I’m not being facetious. Macalester pride is something I think we, all of Macalester, could use more of as a balance to the critical environment many of us reinforce. I wonder if this avenue might satisfy a demonstrated need for the campus to have something to rally around-itself, before solving problems beyond our immediate community. This includes more support of the students towards President Rosenberg, the leader of the school we have all chosen to attend.