At 5:15 p.m. on Sept. 5, every Gonzaga student should’ve received an email from the Office of the President that elucidated the circumstances concerning COVID-19 within the GU community and the services available to help students stay informed.
A few hours before that email’s release, Zags Against Labor Injustice (ZALI), known by their wider constituency as United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) Local 14, published a list of demands they are asking the university to accommodate throughout the remainder of the semester.
“I reached out to the national USAS and we created a campaign where we launched a Twitter storm that we added President Thayne [McCulloh] in and demanded that he release a dashboard or a tracker for the number of cases on campus as well as the amount of students that were tested,” said Makayla Heiser, vice president of ZALI. “A short three hours later, after-hours, a dashboard was released alongside a six-minute video and an email, so we counted that as a victory in getting one of our demands met.”
The dashboard which McCulloh brought to the attention of the student body accounts for the current and cumulative number of COVID-19 cases confirmed by testing throughout the GU community. This includes students on-campus, student off-campus and employees, organized by the month that the test was administered.
The dashboard serves the function of informing community members of the rates of infection around campus, but ZALI members don’t feel that the dashboard is as comprehensive as it should be.
“I know for a fact that there are confirmed cases of students on campus and it is kind of saddening that the university is still trying to put their image first in the public eye,” said Frida Curiel Cota, president of ZALI. “The best way to control any outbreak is by letting students know so they can take care of themselves, quarantine, isolate and that’s what is going to keep everybody safe instead of pretending that it’s not an issue on-campus.”
The dashboard doesn’t present an accommodating model for student or faculty contract tracing, but it does include an outsourcing link to the Spokane Regional Health District as well as a brief statement explaining that the university has hired a team of contact tracers that are now part of Health and Counseling Services.
Heiser said that the dashboard is not as comprehensive as ZALI was hoping to see, but that the inclusion of its services does fulfill the first of the club’s demands for this school year.
The next three demands vary in scope and capability, but all still pertain to various circumstances around campus that have to do with COVID-19.
“We wanted to make it required that all students were tested at least once, hopefully regularly,” Heiser said. “[McCulloh] said that there was going to be a random selection but didn’t touch on how that would be decided or really what that looks like.”
In the same email promoting the university’s COVID-19 dashboard, McCulloh also relayed to students the inception of random testing procedures which would commence the following week. However, according to Curiel Cota, there have been 1,500 tests administered to GU students so far this semester and while random testing does help spot potential uprisings of viral spread, a random testing process isn’t thorough enough to best ensure all students’ safety.
To fulfill that second command, ZALI is looking for the university to implement protocol for students where their temperature must be taken before entering large communal buildings on campus, as well as providing free mandatory tests for all employees due the high frequency at which they interact with students.
ZALI’s third listed demand is particular to Zag Dining, as the club is asking for indoor dining within the COG to be discontinued for the remainder of the semester.
“The lines are really long in the COG, which is due to the parameters set up so that’s good, but with the seating inside, I have concerns about the safety of students eating so closely to those waiting for food,” Heiser said. “My concern is why are we eating inside the COG when there’s the third-floor ballroom which can hold a lot of students, and it’s way more open and airy for students to eat at.”
ZALI doesn’t find it sanitary to conduct consumption in the same vicinity where students are also getting their food, and the group is worried that the current set up in the COG may infringe upon current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
“I am very aware that CDC regulations for dining do not allow people from different households to eat indoors with each other, especially if they’re not 6 feet apart, and that’s happening in the COG,” Curiel Cota said.
According to GU’s ZagOn 2020 webpage, the COG and all other on-campus dining options have been strictly adhering to and are in compliance with all local, state and federal guidelines.
ZALI’s fourth demand asks the university to ensure severance pay and offer means of financial supplements to all sub-contracted and student workers in the case that on-campus operations are terminated at any point during the semester.
This demand was prompted by an alleged instance in the spring where Sodexo abruptly laid off many of its staff once campus operations were halted, and some didn’t receive their severance pay.
“We learned that last semester, 60 Sodexo workers were laid off by Sodexo without severance pay,” Heiser said. “The communication between Sodexo and its employees during that time was practically nonexistent, employees were told not to worry and that they would be taken care of, but that didn’t happen.”
ZALI also wants the university to collaborate with Sodexo in setting up paid-leave packages for workers who will have to take time off if they test positive for COVID-19. The worry among the group is that if such amenities aren’t guaranteed to workers, then employees will still show up to work even when feeling under the weather and subsequently won’t decide to get tested because they’ll risk losing a substantial source of income.
“Gonzaga isn’t doing what it should be to protect the students and workers,” Curiel Cota said. “We shouldn’t have indoor dining, people should get tested, people should know who they’ve been around that tested positive and people should also have some sense of job security during these times because I can’t imagine working at a university and knowing that if an outbreak comes, then I lose my main source of income.”