Dascomb Staff Deserve Respect, Increased Transparency

I attended President Ambar’s talk on Feb. 28, 2018 in which she updated students on Oberlin’s financial situation and announced the closing of Dascomb Dining Hall. President Ambar addressed student concerns about food availability and quality of service on campus when Dascomb closes, but as a student, those are not my only concerns about the state of Campus Dining Services.

As part of my work-study, I have washed dishes at Dascomb since the fall of my first year. I’m not a dishwasher because I couldn’t find a “better” job on campus; I wash dishes at Dascomb because I like to. Working with the Dascomb dining staff has honestly been one of the best experiences I’ve had at Oberlin. The staff at Dascomb are always smiling and helpful. If we get overwhelmed in the dish room, my coworkers help without being asked. People notice if I’m sick and miss a shift and make sure that I’m OK the next day. The cooks bring chocolate for all of the staff around the holidays. Dascomb staff always treat me with compassion, no matter what issues they face in their personal lives. This year alone, staff I know have lost family members, dealt with chronic pain, faced job insecurity, and experienced the stress of working multiple jobs to get their children through college, yet they always do their jobs cheerfully and well.

Some students want a work study job that allows them to sit behind a desk and do their homework. Personally, I appreciate having a three-hour period in which I can’t do homework, and I can’t feel guilty about not doing it. Working at Dascomb has been an emotional detox for me. I eat dinner and joke with my coworkers, we survive the meal rush together, and we dance to Shakira and Cardi B while we work.

Working with staff who have been at Oberlin for years — sometimes decades — is a privilege. Staff on this campus bring something to Oberlin that students, faculty, and administrators can’t: the “Real World.” My experiences at Dascomb keep me grounded. They remind me that I don’t just live at Oberlin College; I live in Oberlin, Ohio. At Dascomb, I work with students, temporary workers, and full-time staff. Some of my coworkers are as young as I am, while others are my grandparents’ age. Without my job at Dascomb, I wouldn’t have that window into life in Ohio. I wouldn’t know anything about how union or temp agencies work. I wouldn’t know what it’s like to be a parent in Lorain County. I wouldn’t know how many lives depend upon this college.

Staff concerns at Oberlin are not just staff concerns. If the staff are unhappy, I am unhappy. Food quality, food accessibility, and other, more traditional student concerns about campus dining are incredibly important, but others have already articulated those concerns thoughtfully and powerfully in the meeting on Feb. 28, 2018 and in The Oberlin Review. Something that has not been said is how important staff on this campus are to students. One worker at DeCafé pointed out to me that CDS staff see us more often than their own children. I know I see CDS staff more than I see or talk to my parents. Sometimes the only hug I’ll get all week is from a CDS coworker welcoming me to my shift.

I know Dascomb Dining Hall will be closed, and I understand why. But CDS staff have been left hanging for weeks without any information about their future at Oberlin. No one knows how many people will lose their jobs.

This radio silence is in line with the disrespectful way I’ve seen Oberlin College treat CDS employees in the past. For example, cooks on campus are forced to use recipes from allrecipes.com, even when those recipes are so bad that CDS staff are embarrassed to serve them. However, lack of open and respectful communication between staff, management, and the school is the biggest issue facing CDS. Open positions are left unfilled without explanation, and meal stations get shut down when a worker is sick to avoid paying other staff overtime to run those stations. I saw this happen just last week in Dascomb. The pizza station, one of the most popular dinner choices at Dascomb, was shut down because of “unforeseen circumstances,” according to the card left at the station. When the staff member running the pizza station wasn’t able to work, no one was called in on overtime to replace them. Just as shifts are left unfilled, entire positions have been left likewise this year in CDS. Dascomb coworkers have applied for open positions and never heard back about their applications. Perhaps this is because administrators knew those positions would be eliminated in the future because of budget cuts, but leaving staff hanging when they are trying to plan their lives is unacceptable. And if that was the thought process of the administration, why were new CDS workers hired in February? Those workers are the most at risk of losing their jobs because they are the newest hires.

Oberlin staff are more aware of the harsh realities of the U.S. economy than most people at this school. They understand how complicated running Oberlin is, and they understand that tough decisions must be made to secure the College’s financial future. Staff deserve more than 10 minutes to ask questions at school/staff meetings. Staff deserve to be kept in the loop as much as possible.

It should be a top priority to protect the jobs of CDS staff, and at the very least communicate with them in an open, respectful manner. As of April 4, 2018, the only CDS employees that the administration has communicated with at all about the coming changes to CDS are the unionized staff. Other staff — staff who Obies know and love for greeting us everyday at the Dascomb doors and for DJing during Fourth Meal — are even more at risk of losing their jobs than those in the union. My coworkers are losing sleep because they don’t know what to tell their families. Some are afraid to tell their spouses that they might lose their jobs. Staff at Dascomb are the closest thing I have to parental support on campus, but Oberlin wouldn’t treat my mom and dad this way.