By Adrianna Jereb and Juliette Verlaque
According to the “Student Management” tab on MCSG’s page of Macalester’s website, the Income Ineqaulity Commission (IIC) meets weekly. Except, as the commission’s sole three student representatives explain it, after a mere two years in existence, the group has lost traction. It hasn’t met for the entire 2016-17 school year. The current representatives, Sariyya Atayeva ’18, Anna Fineanganofo ’18 and Valerie Hallberg ’19, cite a lack of communication from MCSG as a principle cause for the group’s failure to work this year.
IIC was created in the spring of 2015 as part of a document optimistically titled “A Resolution to Address Income Inequality at Macalester College.” In this document, the “Student Body” stated two main goals. First, to lower the income inequality ratio – meaning the percentage discrepancy between what the highest paid and the lowest paid employees make — at the college from where it stood at 42:1 in 2015 to 18:1 by 2020. Second, to raise wages for subcontracted employees (i.e. those employed by Bon Apétit and the Highlander bookstore) to the minimum “living wage” $14.17. Macalester holds for the rest of its employees by 2020.
According to the same “Resolution” document, the IIC would “ensure followthrough on these clauses resolved” and “monitor the sustainability of Macalester’s financial model.” The IIC would communicate its progress “clearly and regularly” with the student body.
Atayeva and Fineanganofo said that they were both excited to be a part of the commission and to discuss issues of income inequality on campus, especially as those issues relate to staff and faculty. “IIC ensures that issues pertaining to income inequality at Macalester are revisited and addressed promptly,” Atayeva explained. “I joined IIC in particular in order to listen to the concerns of the students and employees, and work with the student government to address these concerns.”
Fineanganofo became a member of IIC during its first year, when the group met once a week under the leadership of former MCSG President Ian Calaway ’16, who was the initial force behind the creation of the committee. “He facilitated our first meeting and was interested in helping us in our projects. His involvement made it easier for us to start off,” she recalled. “I was initially interested because as a first-generation, working-class college student, income inequality personally impacts my experience at Macalester. And I was hoping to push for institutional change in how Macalester views its subcontracted workers and how it advertises to working class students and families.”
The IIC members were not contacted by MCSG until several months into the fall semester. According to Fineanganofo: “We were asked to come and present what we have been working on to MCSG, which surprised us. I assumed that the president or MCSG would reach out to meet with us first and we could talk together on what the IIC could work on this year.”
Atayeva, who is currently studying abroad, wrote in an email, “We were quite surprised since we were never contacted before.”
Even so, Atayeva is optimistic that IIC will someday resume its meetings and continue discussing income inequality at Macalester. “I am very hopeful that the role of IIC will be revisited, and we will have a chance to learn about IIC and have a positive impact on Macalester community,” Atayeva wrote.
Fineanganofo concluded, “I am still hoping that there is a way to push for subcontracted workers to receive Mac’s minimum wage in the future.”
Perhaps the issue is not one of miscommunication or lack of organization between MCSG and IIC, but rather a demonstration of general apathy since that spring of 2015 when the “Student Body” called for the creation of the Commission and “A Resolution to Address Income Inequality at Macalester College.” As MCSG President Merrit Stueven ’17 wrote in an email, IIC “was created at a time when a group of students was very passionate about doing this work at Mac, so the commission was created as a vehicle but the students on the commission were the ones leading it and bringing the initiative.” She explained that little structure was created for the commission as far as how it would organize itself. Stueven wrote, “People probably weren’t thinking too far in advance, or didn’t anticipate that the commission might not always be filled with students who are already active in this area of activism and therefore already know what they want to be working on.” Since 2015, interest seems to have declined — as Fineanganofo pointed out in an email, “This year, only three people were interested in being part of the IIC (I assume this because only three people were appointed, and so only 3 probably applied). So MCSG was only able to fill 3 out of 5 seats compared to the more competitive pool that wanted to join in the Fall of 2015.”
As far as MCSG’s role, it recruits students and runs the application process just as it deals with applications for other campus committees.
According to Stueven, “The commission doesn’t have any non-student members, a chair or any other such structure, so there isn’t anything or anyone to put them in touch with. Maybe the original intent was for someone on MCSG, such as myself, to give the commission guidance and instruction but that wasn’t something that was communicated to me by my advisors or last year’s leaders. And even if that was the intent, I don’t know how helpful that would be for the commission; I could see it being a lot more beneficial for them to have an advisor who has institutional memory and can provide perspective on how the group has functioned year to year instead of a fellow student, who likely also doesn’t have previous experience with the work of the commission.”
Even Fineanganofo has lost some energy. Though the issue of income inequality is important to her, she isn’t sure if she will be a member of IIC come next year. She wrote in an email: “The IIC still has a lot of potential, but I think it would be worth reviewing the demands made at the student assembly and to revive the IIC with a new sense of purpose. The student body seemed really interested in the issue of income inequality at the student assembly two years ago, but I think that interest came and went.”