Concrete Action in Mind, SLAP Builds Student Support

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Hundreds of students stopped in front of Sharples last Friday to pose for photos as part of an initiative from the Swarthmore Labor Action Project (SLAP) to bring visibility to labor rights issues on campus. All told about one hundred twenty-five photos were taken by SLAP, each one showing an individual student or group of students holding up brightly-colored signs with slogans like “Workers’ Health Matters,” “Labor Rights: They are your FUTURE,” and “I Support Workers’ Justice at SWAT.”

Given that many pictures included three or more students, its possible that SLAP photographed close to three hundred students during their two hours of activity. All the photos will go up on the yet-to-be-created SLAP Facebook page. Sarah Diamond ’13, one of five SLAP organizers present, says that “overwhelmingly people were interested and wanted to take a picture.”

“When you explain to them in simple terms, ‘Do you support these people? Do you believe that they deserve a safe and fair workplace?’ very few people are going to disagree with that,” Diamond said. While most of the signs were drawn by SLAP members, according to Diamond, interested students were free to select those that spoke to them.

SLAP, a workers’ solidarity group that seeks to improve the situations of staff members at the college, made waves last year in an exchange with President Rebecca Chopp over unionization policy at the long-planned Swarthmore Inn. SLAP complained that the administration’s promises about workers’ rights at the future inn project didn’t go far enough. 

This year, SLAP aims to continue the legacy of last decade’s Living Wage Campaign, an effort that led former President Al Bloom’s administration to institute a policy change. As a first step, they plan to build student support through campus engagement projects such as their photo campaign.

Emma Waitzman ’14, another SLAP member present on Friday, says that “our goal is to be much more visible this semester.”

That’s what Friday’s photo event was all about.

“If we make ourselves more visible, and we do things like the photo campaign where a lot of people are seeing us and their friends holding the signs, then as the semester progresses there will be more and more support,” Diamond said. “And more people willing to stand up with us and with the staff on campus.”

SLAP discussed their general areas of action at their first meeting last Wednesday. The list focuses on discrete worker concerns, such as the college healthcare and childcare plans, the Human Resources grievance reporting process, and the big kahuna–wage rate increases.

“We have been engaging with staff since all of last year… building relationships and creating the goals together… I think staff are excited,” Waitzman said.

According to Diamond, so are a number of faculty. “There are lot of people who believe this is important,” she said. 

All photos courtesy of Swarthmore Labor Action Project.


  1. While these are indeed very sweet sentiments, they are extremely easy to support without due consideration of the economic costs of implementing these theories. Would these “300” students really support them if their tuition went up another $3000 or lost access to other resources to obtain these social perks for the already over paid (based on economic worth) employees?

  2. Concerned realist,

    Everyone comes into these debates with differing goals. Over the next few months, the Gazette will be putting out a series of articles that will submit some of SLAP’s proposals to scrutiny, addressing the concerns about current conditions and taking into account possible effects of a change.

    What’s most important, in the Gazette’s view, is that all students have an accurate understanding of the issues from which to build an informed opinion of them. We hope to see you in the comments section then!

    Andrew Karas
    News Editor

  3. Diamond explains “When you explain to them in simple terms, ‘Do you support these people? Do you believe that they deserve a safe and fair workplace?’ very few people are going to disagree with that.”

    She’s right. No one will disagree.

    Clearly the questions Diamond asks are not the ones that elicit controversy. The problem falls in balancing these interests with other (important) ones. So, seriously, let’s ask some “grown-up” questions –– how much does it cost to do this? Who pays for it? Are we okay with that?”

  4. If we’re going to ask grown-up questions, why don’t we start by asking the grown-ups (working folks) some question: Can you feed your family? How many other jobs do you have to work? Can you go to the emergency room without sacrificing your cell phone for the month?

    Are we, as a community concerned with social justice, okay if the answers to any of those questions are no? There should be an earnest conversation about the budget, but it won’t get very far when starting from the management-level, impersonal perspective you’re proposing.

  5. You can’t just ask the working folks these questions. You need to ask these questions too to the people who’d be paying for this. How do you know the welfare transfer you propose will leave everyone as-well off? It’s possible that this transfer will be net-positive, but you have to be consistent in how and to whom you ask these questions.

    Also, you end up with some tautology problems when you restrict the framework to a “not impersonal” one when a not impersonal perspective only yields the conclusion you want. You end up saying “we should do this because we should,” a tautology.

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