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Retail dining staff will be laid off for the rest of the semester without pay. Credit: Gregory Boyek

Over 5,000 people have signed their name on a petition calling on the University of Pennsylvania to take action against laying off 140 dining hall employees after March 31st. I signed it. My sister at UCLA signed it. My mother signed it. I sent it to my friends from Florida. I am thankful to everyone who has signed their name, especially to Amanpreet Singh, the creator of the petition. However, I should not have to sign a petition. I should not be desperately sending the link to random people scattered throughout the states who are already reeling and confused from the world’s events. Penn should be doing the right thing without student intervention, and that means not laying off 140 hard workers in the middle of a global crisis. 

The past two weeks rolled in like a storm, pummeling students and employees of this institution with misinformation, confusing updates, and wave upon wave of bad news. I’m not expecting Penn’s administration to have everything perfectly ironed out and ready to go within a week of closing the doors to its campus. But I am expecting the human beings in charge of a notable and wealthy institution to behave like compassionate and empathetic leaders. That entails understanding the plight of hard workers whose jobs already put them at risk. 

Generally, we as consumers are quick to bemoan and belittle the jobs of hard-working food service workers. Yet as the world we know seems to be grinding to a stop, it is they who provide us the comfort and labor that everyone is desperately taking advantage of as we jet off to the store to stock up on essentials — or even just experience some relief from being in our own homes. It is they who are put at risk every day, and it is they who deserve better than how Penn is treating them. 

Many Penn students are fortunate enough to have safety nets. Many of us — though definitely not all — have hometowns to return to, parents who can spend a little bit of money, friends who can offer a spare bedroom, or university resources that aren’t available to anyone other than students. Penn dining hall workers, who have not been deemed as essential, don’t necessarily have these privileges. And even if they did, it is unjust and inhumane to deprive someone of their job, livelihood, and income during an international pandemic. 

Emails from University Administration claim that they are working diligently to quell the unprecedented challenges that face our school in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Firing hard-working employees and tossing them off our campus is not a humane or viable answer. We must all live in our world together. The reason we are being urged to self-isolate and socially distance ourselves is to slow the spread of a disease — to protect those who are most vulnerable. This is a principle that needs to be practiced in every facet of society as we try to overcome a ravaged social system. We must protect workers who don’t have the privilege of working from home. 

President Amy Gutmann said, “Please keep in mind that the steps we are taking are for the fullest protection of the health and safety of the entire Penn community.” The entire Penn community includes the people who are set to be fired in ten days. Who is going to protect them if our administration deems them disposable? 

Penn must do better. 

SOPHIA DUROSE is a College junior from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email address is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu.

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