Tufts community members protest janitor cuts during university picnic

Today, during the Tufts President’s Picnic, the Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC), university faculty, janitors, union members and alumni protested janitor staff cuts initiated early last week.

The annual picnic is hosted on the President’s Lawn and provides food and drink for the Tufts and Somerville/Medford community.

This year’s event was disrupted by approximately 40 community members who gathered near Ballou Hall before marching through the picnic area. According to Diane Alexander, a senior undergraduate student who was at the event, many of the protesting faculty were from the Tufts English Department as well as alum, union members and current Tufts students.

Dr. Adriana Zavala, an Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Tufts, spoke during the rally, addressing how she sees Tufts treatment of janitors, “It’s being made quite evident that some community members are more important than others.”

She added, later during a phone interview, that she saw today’s picnic as an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a community. “If we are a community then every member of the community matters, whether it’s the central administration, faculty, staff or the janitors or the food service workers.”

Today’s protests follow nearly a year of demonstrations, sit-ins and hunger strikes in opposition to the janitorial staff cuts. Now, months after rumors began spreading amongst janitors, TLC reports at least two janitors have received layoff notices, with 18 more expected by the end of August.

(DTZ, the company to which Tufts outsources its janitors, and university administrators declined to confirm the official number of layoffs.)

The university has explained their rationale for the cuts in an op-ed in the Tufts Daily, citing a need to improve operational efficiency and an annual savings of $900,000.

TLC organizer, Sofia Adams, said in a statement, “We, members of the Tufts community, including janitors, faculty, students, alumni, and union members, want to remind the administration that just because it is the summer does not mean that we have left.”

Dr. Zavala seconds this sentiment in a video captured by Diane Alexander, a student at the event:

Zavala would later add in an interview, “We wanted the community to know that there are some of us who are still paying attention and are concerned.”

In addition to the march and speeches, Tufts janitor, Paula Castillo, reportedly attempted to hand a written letter to President Monaco. According to Sofia Adams, President Monaco “held up his hand” to decline the letter then didn’t “acknowledge her presence.”

Associate Professor of English, Modhumita Roy, confirmed this version of events in an email:

I was standing with my colleague from history, Steve Marrone, holding up a banner, when Paula [Castillo] went up to President Monaco to hand him a letter. From where I stood, I saw Monaco nod his head to gesture “no,” turn away from Paula and walked off without accepting the letter.

Tufts University could not be reached for comment.

Cover photo and video used with permission from Diane Alexander.

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I am a photojournalist and digital reporter with an interest in media innovation, digital platforms, and political systems. I make pictures and report on labor.

I am a photojournalist and digital reporter with an interest in media innovation, digital platforms, and political systems. I make pictures and report on labor.