Last week, the College of William and Mary community witnessed a rare bright spot in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Sunday, Jan. 31 marked the end of the WM Dining Workers Fund’s winter fundraiser. After it became clear that Sodexo would not be paying W&M dining staff during the extended two-month winter break — and it became clear that President Katherine Rowe’s administration had no intention of challenging Sodexo — a group of students came together in solidarity with our dining staff to raise money for those in need. Their GoFundMe alone raised more than $23,000, with even more money having been raised through Paypal and Venmo. Seeing that money pour in from across the William and Mary community was one of the first times I ever felt that the College’s mantra of One Tribe, One Family might be true.
And then I remembered that this was not the only fundraiser we have seen in the last few months. Last semester, other members of the community rallied around the Tribe 7, the seven athletics programs that the College had announced plans to eliminate for budgetary reasons. There was plenty of support for the Tribe 7, seemingly even more support than there was for the unpaid dining hall workers. Students, parents and alumni created social media pages, published open letters, mounted legal challenges, and called on the administration to reinstate the Tribe 7. Some of them even opened their pockets. The swim team alone raised $1 million in the two weeks following the announcement, according to their Instagram page. They kept raising money until the College announced plans to reinstate the Tribe 7 for another year. At one point in November, the swim team raised $3.6 million in just 36 hours.
Now compare that to the $23,590 raised in total for dining hall workers over the course of two months.
To be clear, the lives and livelihoods of our dining hall staff were on the line. Going almost two full months without pay can mean disaster under normal circumstances. Now add a deadly pandemic, an economic crisis, and an eviction epidemic to the equation. For the College’s dining workers, some of whom have families depending on them and many of whom are BIPOC, this was a matter of life and death. So why didn’t we see the same level of support for dining hall workers that we saw for the Tribe 7?
The simple answer is that there is not One Tribe, One Family. There are two Tribes. The first Tribe knows what it means to suffer. This Tribe includes the dining hall workers who were scared of losing their income and being unable to support their families. This Tribe also includes the students who rallied around the dining hall workers because their mounting student debt, their history of being ignored by the administration and their lived experience of life as a student during COVID-19 inspired sympathy for the workers being abandoned by the College. This Tribe saw an injustice and came together to stop it, even if it did not directly affect them.
The second Tribe has different priorities. This Tribe includes the wealthy parents and alumni who mobilized millions of dollars when their beloved sports teams were endangered but failed to do the same when the most vulnerable members of our community needed help. This Tribe also includes Rowe, who pocketed a $75,000 bonus in December, as well as the other well-paid administrators who chose to ignore the plight of the dining hall workers. This Tribe only fights injustice when they perceive it to be an injustice against themselves.
These two Tribes are not alike in dignity or in resources. One Tribe needs help, the other does not. One Tribe needs money, the other does not. One Tribe is constantly being pushed aside by the administration, while the other sees the administration bend to their every whim. One Tribe is generous, the other is not.
Until the most privileged and powerful members of the College community can prove they are willing to use their resources to help those who need them most, we will never be One Tribe, One Family.
Aidan White ‘23 is a public policy major and a sociology minor. He is involved in Shakespeare in the Dark and the William & Mary Mock Trial Team, and is also a member of the Young Democratic Socialists and the Sinfonicron Light Opera Company. Email Aidan at firstname.lastname@example.org