At Brooklyn College, Hashtag Activism
Faculty and students posted pictures of disrepair on social media, including this photo of a broken door to Boylan Hall.
On many CUNY campuses, you don’t need to look hard to find evidence of disrepair and decay, some serious enough to endanger the health and safety of students and employees. In many cases administrators allow issues ranging from broken doors to heating and air conditioning problems to remain unaddressed long after complaints are filed.
At Brooklyn College, PSC members decided they had had enough. Taking to social media, chapter members crafted a campaign designed to reveal to the world the sorry state of the college’s physical plant, using the hashtag #BroklynCollege (pronounced Broke-lyn).
“We’re hoping to stimulate some action where in the past we’ve heard excuses,” PSC Health and Safety Watchdog Co-Chair Jean Grassman told Clarion.
Starting last month, PSC members at the college took to Twitter, posting pictures of things that need to be fixed: dysfunctional toilets covered in plastic wrap, an air conditioning unit leaking fluid, a desk with a protruding sharp steel arm, a water fountain with exposed pipes, and a ceiling with missing tiles draped with a tarp to catch debris and rain that drops from above.
“Our students deserve better,” wrote PSC member Timothy Shortell in one tweet. A professor in the sociology department and one of the union members spearheading the campaign, Shortell says some of the items in need of repair highlighted by #BroklynCollege have been broken for years.
“The purpose of this campaign isn’t just to get that fountain fixed,” Shortell said at a September 10 chapter meeting. “We are calling on the administration to develop a health and safety plan. There is none.” Nearly everyone present at the meeting said they had also encountered infestations of mice on campus.
A Maintenance Plan
Chapter members say they want their college to develop a systematic approach to addressing problems in consultation with students, staff and faculty. Having a plan in place, chapter leaders say, would help ensure that small issues do not turn into major problems. At the September chapter meeting, Shortell encouraged faculty, staff and their students to post pictures of health and safety issues on social media using the #BroklynCollege hashtag.
The tweets came in. John Anderson, the director of the college’s broadcast journalism degree program, posted a 15-second video of his office’s leaky air conditioning unit with the caption, “Legionnaires, anyone?” Sociology student Brandon P. Martinez posted a photo of a glaring, uncovered fluorescent tube light in an elevator, tweeting, “Exposed lighting in James Hall elevator. Can I call the landlord?”
Assistant Professor Mobina Hashmi tweeted a picture of the entrance to Boylan Hall, the main administrative building on campus, with a handwritten note posted on its wooden door that demanded, “Fix this door already!!” The next day, the student publication Brooklyn College Kingsman posted a photo of the same door on its Instagram feed, now featuring a number of written demands: “Fix exposed pipes in classrooms,” “Fix Brooklyn College’s pest problem” and, referring to the West End Building, “Fix WEB’s trigger-happy fire alarm.”
Since the campaign began, some progress has been made, says Jean Grassman, an associate professor of health and nutrition sciences and a member of the PSC Environmental Health and Safety Committee. The door to Boylan Hall was fixed, some water fountains have been repaired and a vendor has been secured for dealing with the college’s rodent problem. The college at last hired a new director of Environmental Health and Safety, a position that went unfilled for more than a year. Earlier this month, PSC members met with college officials to address health and safety issues, and both parties say they plan to make such meetings a regular practice.
Grassman says it’s common to view advocacy for health and safety issues as a simple service. A thing breaks; the union presses management to fix it. But this campaign, Grassman says, aims for more. It takes on larger issues around governance, working conditions and curriculum.
“This campaign is about respect, respect for faculty and respect for students,” Grassman told Clarion. “We’re professionals, and we seek a professional environment in which to do our work.”
Editor’s note: What’s broken on your campus? Tweet photographs to @Clarion_PSC with the hashtag #FixCUNY, or email them to us at [email protected].