Illustration by Tom Abi Samra

We Owe Our Contract Staff Basic Respect. It is The Least We Can Do.

With more frequency than we would like to admit, faculty and students take out their frustrations on those who did not establish the rules. Pandemic or not, we owe to our contract staff kindness and gratitude in the face of inconvenience.

Since our return to campus, we have engaged in complex discussions about what we owe each other as a community amid a pandemic. Some have called for the strict compliance of community guidelines of masks, social distancing and remaining on campus unless absolutely necessary. Others have written about redefining the boundaries of consent among our peers, and some have even shared deeply personal stories of fear and disease to highlight the risks that the most vulnerable students on campus face.
But in these conversations lie grave exclusions: that of our contract staff whose labor holds the Return to Campus Initiative together. What about what we owe them?
Residing on campus this fall, inconvenience has, no doubt, become a fact of life. We subject ourselves to incessant daily temperature checks at the Welcome Center, Campus Center, residence buildings and dining hall. We complete a daily symptom checker, perform painful nose swabs every two weeks and have given up on different extents of our privacy, all in exchange for the privilege and safety that come with living here during an uncertain semester.
While this discomfort pales in comparison to the existential threat of the pandemic, changing the way we move and exist on this campus can be tiring, and understandably frustrating. Complaints about the efficacy of our own public health regulations can be justified and should be addressed with the administration, through appropriate channels. With more frequency than we would like to admit, however, members of the NYUAD community take out their frustrations on those who had no say in devising these rules.
The onus of enforcing these regulations falls disproportionately on the shoulders of our Public Safety officers. Like that of many migrant workers around the world, their workload increased without notice at the beginning of the pandemic and altered their day to day obligations. Many of these staff members have been away from home for years now, currently face delayed annual leaves due to stringent travel restrictions and regulations. Some have to worry about perilous situations back home, especially as employment precarity has become a fact of life in the declining global economy. Many come from countries where Covid-19 continues to spread at alarming rates, with daily infections increasing significantly and posing a risk for their loved ones.
Their daily jobs intrinsically require close proximity to our faces and crowded spaces, putting them at a heightened risk. For us, their insistence on students completing the Symptom Checker App and social distancing may be an inconvenience; for them, it could be a choice that determines their livelihoods. In these circumstances, the least that we can do is to treat them with respect when they do their jobs. Every time we walk away from a Public Safety officer reminding us to check in at the Welcome Center, exit campus via restricted areas or even sigh at the request of showing an ID, we are making the lives harder for those whose job it is to keep everyone safe.
As part of a liberal, progressive campus, most of us spend a great deal of our time discussing structural inequalities. We write papers, work on initiatives and spearhead passion projects based on lofty political ideals. But what is the purpose of these discussions, projects and research if we do not translate them into daily behavior? Are our concerns about inequality so shallow that they cannot withstand a mere symptom checker?
What we owe to our contract staff, with or without a pandemic, is kindness and gratitude in the face of minor discomfort. To follow the regulations without being asked. And to carefully question the inequities we perpetuate when we fail to recognize the privilege of our inconveniences.
Kaashif Hajee and Laura Assanmal are Editors in Chief, and Abhyudaya Tyagi and Dylan Palladino are Managing Editors. Email them at
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