At women’s college, a student strike for more money and free therapy succeeds

Here’s a student protest that makes some sense to me. Resident advisers (RAs) at Scripps College went on strike seeking more dough (and I don’t mean play-doh). Sophie Mann, a junior at Scripps, writing in the Wall Street Journal, reports:

In a new twist on student protests, a group of resident advisers at Scripps College went on “strike” last week after issuing a list of demands—mostly for more money. Other students working in the admissions office threatened to wreak havoc during special tours for newly admitted students who are trying to decide whether to enroll. Essentially, the tour guides threatened to trash-talk their own college.

According to Mann, most of the resident advisers are African-American or Latina. They receive free room and board worth, which is worth almost $16,000 a year.

Yet, they feel (or claim) that their “labor” is worth more. According to Mann, who attends Scripps, that “labor” largely consists of opening dorm doors for residents who forget keys, asking students to turn down music on weekend evenings, and so forth.

The Scripps RAs also want compensation for the “emotional cost” of their “labor.” They acknowledge that Scripps already subsidizes students’ private, off-campus therapy. But the school only pays $75 a session. Even if students can get insurance to cover the rest they must “front” the cost. The RAs complain that “this financial burden should not be put on any student who seeks to improve their [sic] mental health.”

As I said, it’s understandable that the RAs want to squeeze more money and benefits out of Scripps. It’s harder to understand why Scripps gave in to their demands, though for those who have been paying attention, it’s not surprising that Scripps did.

I also have trouble understanding why Scripps would want to use RAs who admit to needing mental therapy. As Mann suggests, there’s something odd about a college providing therapy to RAs “whom it pays to be the mature authorities in its dorms.”

Scripps gave in to all of the RAs demands except for one. It refused to fire Charlotte Johnson, the dean of students, whom the RAs find insufficiently sympathetic.

Johnson is African-American. Her name will be familiar to some of our readers. She was the Dean of the College at Dartmouth before leaving for Scripps. Our friend Joe Asch wrote about her here (among other places).

Many who knew Charlotte Johnson at Dartmouth will be surprised to hear that she has been accused of lack of sympathy towards minority students. The Scripps administration is probably surprised too. When Scripps hired Johnson it stated: “She has built an impressive career as a student affairs professional, educator, and sought-after presenter on diversity and pipeline issues.” (Emphasis added)

But “sympathy” in this context is an endlessly inflatable concept. Thus, it can be turned against those who have made their way, in part, by being sympathetic to minorities and to considerations of diversity.

Mann concludes by wondering how the Scripps RAs, who are receiving an elite liberal arts education at pennies on the $68,000-a-year price, acquire such a deep sense of grievance. She writes:

Perhaps from Scripps’s three required semesters of Core Curriculum, advertised as “interdisciplinary learning,” which indoctrinate malleable minds into progressive thought. Freshmen are encouraged to see themselves as permanently oppressed victims of great structural forces—racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, etc. Radical faculty encourage and enjoy watching their students work themselves into frenzies against their institution.

Perhaps this creates a special burden for women of color, who hear that they are permanently marginalized, a claim echoed endlessly in identity-based campus organizations. It is the precise opposite of “empowering women.” [The college’s capitulation] guarantee[s] that the airing of the grievances will continue.

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