My name is Regis Fields and I work as an Animal Care Technician in the University Lab Animal Resource Department, better known as ULAR. For those that may be unfamiliar with what our department does, we provide husbandry care for all the research animals spread throughout Penn’s campus. The work can be physically exhausting, requiring a fierce commitment of both stamina and focus for many of the tasks we are asked to do daily. My colleagues and I in ULAR perform a service to the scientific community of Penn that often puts us under much pressure and, at times, scrutiny. However, I do not say these words to solicit support for any form of grievance — we are a professional department that understands the importance and value of the research being done. What I am hoping to express is that I work with intelligent, problem-solving individuals committed to the practice of husbandry and the animal sciences here at the University. Moreover, those same individuals diligently perform these duties every day of the year, even throughout a pandemic.
We come from various backgrounds. All of us, however, share a singular desire of bettering ourselves through the resources and opportunities that Penn has to offer. Many of us started off in entry-level positions with the hopes of somehow working our way up within the university ranks. But, for many of us, that has proven challenging, as many of the university career opportunities available in our field require experience and levels of education that some of us do not have. It can be a frustrating feeling. Even those of us that possess many of the necessary requirements still find it difficult even getting a foot in the door. As a result, many of us are relegated to the reality of making our careers in entry-level positions. That classification only comes with one pay construct being paid weekly.
Penn is an amazing place to work and has almost limitless resources and programs designed to make working here a valued experience. I do not at all wish to imply that my coworkers and I are somehow underpaid for our performance. Personally, I can say compensation is fair. But when I speak with people within my department, we all trend towards a feeling of frustration with respect to the financial ability to take those next steps in life. Those next steps often are expressed in terms of wanting to accrue a savings net for our families, providing quality educational opportunities for our kids, and the daunting endeavor of trying to get enough capital to put a down payment on a home. The ‘American dream' — if you will — is a dream that when you are close to living paycheck to paycheck seems as intangible as the very images seen when you sleep.
In America, on average, Black and Latino households make significantly less than their white and Asian counterparts. While there are many factors that play into that, it is clear there is a wealth disparity. As we venture further along the 21st century, trends are showing that the wealth gap is increasing and having many adverse effects. One must wonder what sort of effect gentrification has on the day-to-day health and well-being of those watching rent and taxes rise much faster than income. In West Philadelphia, gentrification has been spurred primarily through Penn and its homeownership program, incurring criticisms and praise. While it has increased neighborhood property values, lower-income, long-time inhabitants of certain areas have felt a financial burden. The CDC has published research confirming that gentrification has negative impacts on members of racial and ethnic minority groups who often do not have the wealth to properly adjust.
What I am lobbying for is for in this time of social change that my employer challenges the very boundaries I have discussed here. To align itself with efforts of correcting wealth inequalities and to entertain serious discussions that could affect the lives of many of its employees of color. And to please have that discussion sooner rather than later.
REGIS FIELDS is an Research Animal Care Technician at Penn's Animal Resource department