On Thursday, April 12, the University announced a multi-million dollar renovation of the Sharpe Refectory’s infrastructure, with the eventual goal of installing permanent cooling abilities there in the summer of 2019. The current plan includes two phases: first, a $4 million upgrade of the electrical system and backup generator; and second, the development of permanent solutions to the currently subpar systems in place for Ratty workers in the summer after the completion of a feasibility report. We applaud the University for taking and making public concrete action to enhance working conditions in the Ratty, and the Brown Student Labor Alliance for its dedication in elevating this cause to the forefront of student activism.
The University’s plan will mitigate the harsh conditions that workers in the Ratty kitchens face during the summer months. Employees have previously voiced concerns about the high temperatures in the kitchen while preparing meals over the summer. Sadly, their repeated calls for the installation of air conditioning went mostly unheeded by the University, which renovated the Ratty’s design and furniture layout in 2012 and planned additional renovations in 2014 and 2015.
Why the University did not prioritize safe working conditions for its employees at a much earlier date is more than a little perplexing. High temperatures in the kitchens, after all, pose significant safety threats to those employees who must work in them for hours on end; Ratty workers have reported feeling fatigue, sickness and faintness during their shifts, and noted the fact that the kitchen heat makes them sweat so much that their uniforms stick to their skin. It is heartening to see the University finally making strides in its treatment of Ratty employees, who deserve safe working conditions and are integral to the day-to-day functioning of the University and the wellness of the student body.
We also commend the SLA for drawing attention to working conditions in the Ratty and its previous work with workers’ rights at Brown. On Wednesday, April 11, the SLA hosted “Fans on Faunce,” an event in which student activists encouraged other members of the community to place fans on the steps of Faunce. The display of fans raised awareness among the wider student body about the Ratty’s overheated kitchens and may have encouraged administrators to unveil renovation plans earlier. With respect to any issue of justice and equity on campus, the buy-in of the student body is crucial for the enactment of long-term reform, and the SLA has recognized and effectively acted upon the responsibility we have, as students, to every member of the Brown community — including those who work so hard to ensure that we have convenient access to three meals a day, every day, in all weather.
Ultimately, we are glad to see the crystallization of funding and timelines for phase one of the renovation of the Ratty’s kitchen. While phase two begins with a feasibility report, currently underway, we hope the University executes the goals outlined in its recent announcement, develops a permanent fix for working conditions in the Ratty and continues to address, in a timely fashion, the concerns of all its employees.
Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: Anuj Krishnamurthy ’19, Mili Mitra ’18, Rhaime Kim ’20 and Grace Layer ’20. Please send responses to this opinion to email@example.com and op-eds to firstname.lastname@example.org.