by Caroline Bourscheid
It was the night of Pitzer’s 50th Birthday Party and the second semester of my sophomore year. The trees on the mounds were draped with orange streamers, the grass was pristine, and an enormous stage stood waiting for the presence of Earth, Wind, and Fire. The year had been drowning in promotional and fundraising events as Trombley’s administration aimed to raise 50 million dollars for our school’s 50th Anniversary. On our way to class, we would often stumble upon extravagant cocktail parties with brass bands, white tablecloths, and tiny food. It was a constant circus of playing up our image and encouraging donors to empty their pockets into our debt-full laps.
As a member of the Claremont Student Worker Alliance, we had spent the year talking to Pitzer workers, learning their stories, and trying to educate the community about their needs. Our focus at the time was healthcare, and how underpaid workers with families were struggling to foot the $400+ bill every month. We had sat down with Trombley, spoken with faculty, presented our concerns to the budget and worker committees (BIC and SCR), spread information through email/social media/flyers, and threw a Worker Appreciation BBQ for the entire community to celebrate workers and hear their stories. Now, on the night of Trombley’s big parade, we were talking one-on-one with alumni, giving them pamphlets of information and encouraging them to pressure the administration about workplace issues. Many alumni responded with, “This is still an issue here? We were fighting this decades ago!”
The night was winding down as I watched President Trombley depart the festivities, descending across the mounds. She had her publicity smile tacked on and was saying goodbye to the various alumni she passed; the path between us glowed. My heart raced as I thought about approaching my own college president, who we had sat down and talked with before, only to receive choreographed responses; who I rarely saw on campus and only got a glimpse of at various funding events for alumni and parents; who seemed to completely misunderstand Pitzer’s core values, except for when it came to their marketable qualities; who I wished so deeply to connect with on a human level, to bring her back down from the administrative bubble.
“Hello President Trombley, could I talk to you briefly about the workers?”
With a grimace and an eye roll, she replied, “You think I don’t know about the workers?” and continued to march by me.
Realizing that she was not willing to hear me out, I simply asked, “Will you just take this pamphlet please? It will tell you all you need to know.” And so she did, very unwillingly, and most likely tossed it in the trash afterwards.
When I read Trombley’s letter of departure, at first I felt sympathy. Her experiences working as a president sounded draining with minimal highlights. But shortly thereafter, all I could feel was anger. Her descriptions of students were derogatory, depicting us as drunken barbarians who were uneducated and obnoxious. And when I read the words, “drawing upon your shrinking store of patience after being confronted by a first-year student who wants to ‘educate you about the workers,’ ” I could not help but think of that night I had confronted her. It sounded just like our interaction, and like many other interactions members of CSWA have had with her. Her inability to have the patience to listen to students and her use of “first-year” as some sort of belittling slur was beyond unprofessional. Faculty speaking up or trying to create dialogue with her was seen as “insurrection.” Students attempting to get through to her tested her “shrinking store of patience.” And yet she ironically highlighted having a “Resist Authority” poster on her wall and a white feminist perspective, as if to somehow help us relate to her as a person. I was shocked that this was the message she chose to leave us with.
The whole article was an incessant indulgence of her first-world problems, complaining about the constant pressures, while completely dismissing the outcries from community members. Her highlights included meeting Beyoncé and getting invited to the White House. She complained about not having time for dentist appointments or scrapbooking, while the majority of workers at Pitzer come home from a long, laborious day only to deal with the stressors of low salaries and high health care bills. Many have lost homes and cars due to financial struggles. Some rely on food stamps, selling recyclables, and taking side jobs to get by. It takes a worker 35 years to make what Trombley makes in one year. So while she may have come “close to dying,” many workers have as well, yet they can’t afford to pay the medical costs like she can. And her assumption that her personal sufferings are greater because “there was no time for mourning and healing,” trivializes the lives and hectic schedules of us all. The majority of us cannot afford to stop our studies or work to mourn, let alone scrapbook.
For President Trombley to complain about the stressors of a job while she receives over $800,000/year, lives in a $2 million renovated home, and indulges in many other perks provided by the college, was an insult to the entire community. It was an insult to the workers who deal with daily management abuses, work overtime, and receive minimal compensation. It was an insult to our parents who break their backs to afford the $60,000 tuition every year. It was an insult to the many students who sacrifice sleep and studying to advocate for what they believe in. It was an insult to faculty, who go above and beyond to help students achieve, yet rarely receive tenure. The President has every right to complain about her job, but it is appalling of her to do so while simultaneously dismissing our community and its needs, most of which have not been met in her 13 years of “fire-hose-in-your-face” work.
In the end, all I feel is saddened for her to have worked so hard and achieved very little that actually benefitted anyone besides herself, the trustees, and the college’s image. Her success is an empty balloon of new buildings, higher rankings, and funding goals. I have yet to speak with someone who is sad to see Trombley leave us, and this letter depicts exactly why. We are tired of the self-indulgence, the whining, and the lack of progress. The Pitzer community is ready for change and eager to ensure that the next President actually respects, values, and listens to community voices once and for all.