Suffering From Conflicting Identities Student Workers Clash with Language School Administration
September 12, 2002
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Author: Deborah Jones
Conversations were strained and tempers flared when approximately 25 summer workers huddled in The Grille August 12 to discuss their increasingly tense relationship with Language School students and faculty with Dean of Language Schools and Schools Abroad Michael Katz.
At the center of the debate was respect, with many of the workers, academic year Middlebury College students employed in service and research positions during the summer months, feeling that their presence on campus was not only unappreciated but scorned by persons associated with the Language Schools.
The meeting was precipitated by a confrontation between five summer employees and a member of the Spanish School faculty on the Proctor Hall terrace. The workers were speaking English in what the faculty member informed them was a non-English area.
She asked them for their names and extensions, which the employees objected to, considering her tone and actions unwarranted. Two of the workers involved in the conflict, Vinay Jawahar ’03, a research assistant, and Shahan Mufti ‘03.5, an Information Technology Services computer consultant, later wrote letters to Katz and then-Acting President Ronald Liebowitz regarding the situation.
Technically, English-speaking workers were supposed to congregate in the area beside the Proctor dish room so as to not disrupt students observing the Language Pledge. Students at Middlebury’s Language Schools give their word to communicate only in their target tongue for the duration of their program. All summer employees were required to sign a statement committing to respecting the Language Pledge prior to being hired.
On August 7, Student Employment Coordinator Charlene Bergland addressed the directors of all eight Language Schools in an attempt to explain the frustrations of the workers. It was then decided to hold a conference between them and Katz in order to discuss each group’s concerns. Bergland, Associate Dean of Student Affairs Kathy Foley-Giorgio and Residential Systems Coordinator Mariah McKechnie were also present.
At the meeting, Katz reminded the workers of their commitment to respect the Language Pledge, but the conversation soon turned to concerns regarding the manner in which summer students and faculty interacted with service employees and research assistants.
“Some workers felt as though they were second-class citizens,” explained Bergland. Indeed, summer employees are housed on the outskirts of campus in what some consider undesirable dormitories, may only do their laundry in Forest, and, if they even have a meal plan, are relegated to a corner of the dining hall. However, Jawahar noted, he and other workers were primarily agitated by what they felt was a deprecating, “heavy handed” attitude from Language School students and faculty towards them.
The atmosphere of the August 12 meeting grew increasingly tense when Katz told the workers that during the summer months, they are actually temporary staff and not regular Middlebury students. Mufti took issue with this statement, calling it “completely confused.”
“[Summer workers] have student rights, student parking, student housing and student wages. To insist that we were ‘staff’ would necessitate staff wages and level of living. I don’t see any reality to that statement,” he continued.
Jawahar was equally irritated, noting that “it really doesn’t matter whether you’re staff, student or a lizard, people should be treating you with respect. If you’re on the campus, you are part of this community. I expect that I will be treated with at least minimal consideration.”
Katz did not disagree, affirming that although the Language Schools are quite intense and tempers have a tendency to fray, rude behavior is never justified. He plans to stress the critical role of summer workers to the operation of the program to future Language School students and faculty and remind them to treat all members of the College community with respect.
However, the motto of the Language Schools will remain “No English Spoken Here,” and Katz is committed to “guaranteeing the integrity of theguage Pledge.” He and Bergland will be developing a new orientation program for workers that will better introduce them to Middlebury’s unique summer environment with all its constraints and benefits.