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BUCC talks possible University boycott of Hilton hotel

Mental health, sexual assault survey spark conversation on improved health, safety resources

The University is considering implementing a boycott of the local Hilton Providence Hotel due to a labor dispute between employees and the hotel’s owners. Members of the Brown University Community Council discussed the potential boycott at a meeting Tuesday.

The BUCC also touched on Counseling and Psychological Services reforms and the Campus Climate and Sexual Assault survey results at the meeting. President Christina Paxson P’19 ended the meeting with the announcement that the BUCC would take the semester to reflect on Brown’s role in perpetuating structural racism and eliminating it in the future.

Sophia Gluskin-Braun ’17 and Daniel Crowell ’16.5 began the meeting with a presentation on dangerous working conditions at the Hilton in downtown Providence. The Hilton is owned by the Procaccianti Group, which owns the Renaissance Providence Downtown Hotel and former Westin Providence Hotels, both of which the University has previously boycotted.

Hilton employees are asked to clean 17-25 rooms per day, more than the unionized hotel standard of 14-15 rooms, and the rate of work-related injuries at the hotel is 69 percent higher than the national average, Gluskin-Braun said.

Hilton employee Jonah Zinn joined Gluskin-Braun and Crowell to ask the BUCC to consider an additional boycott for the Hilton, which would entail removing the Hilton from Brown’s list of suggested hotels and alerting the community — parents of students in particular — that there is an ongoing labor dispute at the Hilton.

Zinn told a story of one co-worker who delivered twins by C-section, only to receive a call from the Procaccianti Group threatening to fire her if she did not show up to work the following Monday. Ultimately, the poor conditions come down to a lack of respect, Zinn added.

Without any ongoing legal action for labor law violations, some BUCC members were hesitant to boycott the hotel without further research.

An additional look into the reliability of the statistics seems necessary, in addition to an opportunity for the Hilton’s management to present its case, said Brendan McNally, associate director of Business, Entrepreneurship and Organizations.

Manuel Contreras ’16, a student representative on the BUCC and Herald editorial page board editor, disagreed. “I have concerns about turning this space into a courtroom,” he said, adding, “If we have the opportunity to assist the marginalized, why wouldn’t we? Particularly given Brown’s position of power.”

An audience member, also a Hilton worker, pointed out that Brown’s previous boycotts simply consisted of the acknowledge of a labor dispute and that this factual statement could again be made without deference to one side or the other.

Paxson tabled the discussion, saying that a decision would likely be made before the next meeting.

The BUCC also conducted the first open forum on the Mental Health Community Council’s report and its recommendations for Counseling and Psychological Services, released Sept. 2.

Sherri Nelson, director of CAPS, presented the seven goals for CAPS, as detailed in the report: increased staffing; improved medical leave of absence procedures; strengthened mental health support for graduate and medical students; enhanced online resources; training for community members to support those dealing with mental health issues; peer resources for students; and an increase in insurance options for mental health resources on campus.

Steven Rasmussen ’74 MD’77 P’13, chair of the MHCC, stressed the importance of diversifying the additional counseling staff and eliminating the seven-session limit in favor of a higher implicit ceiling.

Concern within the BUCC focused largely on the elimination of remaining barriers to mental health treatment in the CAPS program and in the overall Brown community.

Despite the increased staffing, some students seeking help have reported being unable to access a mental health practitioner for two weeks or more, indicating that wait times remain a problem, said UCS President Sazzy Gourley ’16.

Nelson was uncertain of the current wait time, but said that even during “the mental health crises” of last spring, wait times were shorter than they had been in previous years. “A wait time of a week is really quite reasonable,” she said, adding that a new system for crisis appointments and additional urgent slots built into the schedule make CAPS a “24/7/365” organization.

Rasmussen said the staff size CAPS needs fluctuates greatly over the course of a semester. “What we want to do is staff close to that peak volume and use the extra staff for prevention” during less busy times of year, he said.

Students needing medical leave can also struggle to find appropriate psychological help, a problem that Crowell said he experienced during his own leave of absence. But a CAPS employee in the audience said this has been solved through the addition of a worker tasked with calling students on leave throughout the semester.

The discussion also turned to unequal access to mental health among students with financial aid.

“I didn’t think this would be an issue where we issue a report and are done,” Paxson said, adding that the conversation and implementation is “continuous and imperfect.”

Title IX Program Officer Amanda Walsh presented the campus sexual assault survey statistics released in an Association of American Universities report Sept. 21. Twenty-five percent of undergraduate women at Brown reported experiencing sexual assault, a figure close to the national average, Walsh said.

But 71 percent of undergraduate women reported sexual harassment while at Brown, and nearly 90 percent of students identifying as TGQN — transgender, genderqueer or non-conforming, questioning or not listed — did so, placing Brown well above the national average for those groups, Walsh said.

With 54 percent of students reporting having witnessed a drunken person heading to a sexual encounter, Walsh said the impetus remains on the University to increase education for students of all backgrounds and identities.

Training “has to come in many forms since different students will respond in different ways,” she added. The first-year online module training — which is expanding this week to encompass faculty and staff members as well — received mixed reviews from incoming students, but would likely still be the most effective for educating current students on a widespread level, Walsh said.

Education is needed to facilitate positive discussions, as well as prevention tactics, she said.

Effective training should include “online, in-person and incorporating it into the curriculum in a way that isn’t always focused on sexual assault, but that’s focused on healthy relationships,” she added.

To end the meeting, Paxson discussed the need for an ongoing conversation about racial inequality on Brown’s campus. She said the first-year’s summer reading assignment, Michelle Alexander’s “The New Jim Crow,” promoted this conversation between faculty members and incoming students.

“We need to make sure at Brown that our policies, that the things we do, are not contributing to structural racism,” Paxson said.


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