Columns, Opinions

Foster ’19: Cooling towers won’t cut it

By
Opinions Columnist
Sunday, April 1, 2018

The days are getting longer, and nor’easters notwithstanding, they’ll start getting warmer too. Soon we’ll all be out on the Main Green, soaking in the sun between (or in spite of) assignment deadlines. But as students enjoy the rising temperatures, Brown Dining Services employees know that something else is looming on the horizon — another summer without air conditioning in the campus’ largest dining hall.

During the summer, Brown opens its doors to Summer@Brown students who are eager to spend several weeks on campus. These students eat their meals at the Ratty, along with Summer@Brown residential advisors and undergraduates taking summer courses. The kitchens of the Ratty, located in the heart of the building, reach triple-digit temperatures during the summertime. The full-time staff members who work in the Ratty are subjected to hot, humid and poorly ventilated conditions that cause dehydration and fainting. Worse still, staff numbers are scaled back during the summer. This means that employees are working harder and in worse conditions than they do during the academic year.

Dining Services employees have been asking for a solution to this problem for years. Air conditioning would make scorching kitchens bearable, allowing workers to make it through their shifts safely. This problem resurfaces year after year. There is still no air conditioning.

Last summer, after students voiced their concern with this state of affairs, Brown agreed to rent cooling towers and place them in the kitchens of the Ratty. Cooling towers combine fans and cool mist to provide localized relief. The combined forces of cooling towers, additional breaks and extra water weren’t enough. The kitchens were still too hot  — fans and mist just aren’t enough to cool a large scale commercial kitchen during the middle of summer.

When the summer came to an end, the cooling towers disappeared. There was no guarantee that they would be back in the summer of 2018. And so Dining Services employees have been placed in the same situation they’ve been in before — no way to stay cool in the kitchen during a sweltering summer. This problem requires a permanent solution: air conditioning.   

The administration may argue that because the Ratty is old, it would be difficult to install the infrastructure necessary to cool the kitchens. There is some truth to this argument — retrofitting an old building’s HVAC system is likely complicated. But that’s not an excuse. If the long-term solution is far away, then we need a better stopgap. Portable AC units are used in other University buildings without central air. There’s little reason not to extend the same rights to workers at the Ratty.

Dining Services employees work for students every day. When a snowstorm hits and the University is closed, the Ratty is not. Dining Services employees brave snowstorms so that students have a place to eat. When many students leave for holiday breaks, the Ratty stays open for those who remain on campus.

Here’s the thing — even if you’re off meal plan (like me) or spend all your credits at Jo’s and haven’t set foot in the Ratty since freshman year unit dinner, you should still care. Because the bottom line is this: Dining Services employees deserve to go to work in conditions that don’t make them faint.

It’s time for the student body to stick up for the people who literally put food on our tables. If you’re interested in getting involved with this issue, consider attending the Student Labor Alliance’s second community meeting, which will take place Tuesday at 8 p.m. in Smith-Buonanno Hall B 106.

Ruth Foster ’19 can be reached at ruth_foster@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.