Last week, Unsung Heroes, a student initiative dedicated to raising awareness and support for workers on campus, received national media attention for its fundraising efforts to purchase plane tickets for Umberto “Suru” Ripai, an employee at O’Donovan Hall, to visit his home country of South Sudan for the first time in 45 years.
A GoFundMe campaign created Sept. 27 has raised about $6,000 as of press time at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday — $4,000 more than the original goal — to fund a trip to and from his home country. In addition, the group also raised $2,500 for maintenance worker Oneil Batchelor to help him establish a catering business based around Jamaican cooking.
These fundraising efforts embody Georgetown’s most fundamental values. Unsung Heroes’ social entrepreneurship takes the values of charity and contemplation and makes them a reality. The initiative allows students to show their care and empathy for those in our community who oftentimes are outside our collective conscious. What is more, such actions have established an example of how students can make a substantive difference for those who contribute to the daily operations of our school.
Unsung Heroes was started by Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) as a class project. The project has also partnered with Students for Georgetown, Inc. this year, which will help expand Bellamy’s vision of opening chapters of Unsung Heroes at other D.C. universities and keeping up the momentum that has garnered its Facebook page more than 7,000 likes.
Projects like Unsung Heroes should be held up as examples of how Georgetown students can direct their energy into benefitting the lives of individuals who are integral to our community, yet are often unrecognized. The most important impact of the group is that it fosters meaningful interactions between students and campus workers.
Through its Facebook posts, Unsung Heroes has shown that campus workers like Ripai and Batchelor have life stories that are varied, personal and real. In addition to learning from these stories, the student takeaway from Unsung Heroes should be that we are surrounded by hard workers, and that there are opportunities to give back to them in real and effective ways.
In addition to campaigns like these, students can do more to show their appreciation for campus workers on a daily basis, whether it be through simple interactions or finding time to engage in conversations with them so they feel part of the Georgetown community. Just listening to the stories of those working behind the scenes and into the late hours of the night are small ways students can individually build relationships with workers across our campus.
Beyond showing their appreciation, students should take a more active role in speaking up for workers’ rights. There are currently ongoing negotiations between the university and facilities workers belonging to the Service Employees International Union 1199 dealing with issues of mistreatment and proper working environments. In the past, students have led the charge in advocating for better work and wage conditions between workers and university service provider Aramark, which, along with service provider Sodexo, has been accused of workers’ rights violations. Unsung Heroes should direct even more students’ attention to these issues.
The recent fundraising efforts by Unsung Heroes are commendable, and demonstrate the care that students have for our campus worker community. However, this should be the first step in encouraging more students to stand up for workers’ rights and feel a responsibility to engage in their experience on campus, too. Between students taking agency in establishing relationships with workers on an individual level or advocating as a collective for better labor rights, the ways Hoyas can show care and empathy are numerous. All one must do is simply make the effort to show respect and dignity toward those who deserve it the most — campus workers.