The tragedy of April 30 affected all of us very deeply. I am a professor and spent much time on campus during the following days and remember many beautiful acts of solidarity and compassion – not because we are "Niners," but because we are human beings.
But I can't forget some less honorable actions. In particular, the mistreatment of campus workers. Who, by the way, are an essential and irreplaceable part of the UNC Charlotte community. They should be recognized and celebrated, and thanked for their service each April 30 and on every other day of the year.
During the first few days after April 30, I interviewed about a dozen workers in housekeeping, dining services and maintenance. I took these notes:
I spoke with some housekeeping workers this morning who work the first shift (5 a.m. – 2 p.m.) for facilities management. They are assigned to the Kennedy Building (where the shooting took place) and nearby buildings.
The five workers have all been at the University for a long time: each of them has worked here for 10 to 28 years. They are all African American women, like 90% of the housekeeping staff. They earn approximately $15 per hour.
Although the campus was virtually shut down for the three days after the shooting, they all were required to report to work. They park about a half-mile away and pay $425 annually to park at their workplace and then walk to work in the dark each morning.
When they came to work on Wednesday morning (May 1), the campus lockdown and emergency had only ended a few hours earlier. "We had to walk in the dark, not knowing what was going on." Despite the circumstances, no arrangements were made to make them feel safer.
A few hours after their shift had started, "We were called to a meeting at around 9:00" in Cone (300 yards from Kennedy).
Someone, "a high-up guy," who they'd never seen before — "a white guy wearing a suit — talked to us." He said, "This is a bad day for all of us, but we have to get back to work."
He then said something vague about "counseling services" for employees but said nothing about how to access these services. When I asked these workers, "Did he say 'you could go there during your shift'" they laughed; no, there was no hint of any genuine sympathy, they explained.
He then said, "We're gonna walk over to Kennedy" (where the shooting took place 11 hours earlier). These workers have to clock in on the first floor of Kennedy.
"I can't do this," one worker said. But the university administrator [perhaps the recently hired chief of security; it's unclear] said, "It's gonna be okay. If you don't want to go there, then that's okay," but it was clear that there wasn't a genuine choice. "I was crying… I got this feeling" that she couldn't describe, this worker explained.
"They should have given us a choice" about working and offered overtime pay for anyone who wished to work, another worker said. She's worked here for more than 20 years.
She was visibly distraught five days after the shooting. "The campus was practically shut down anyway" and didn't require everyone to come to work" (which is quite true: exams were postponed and classes were over, and very few people were on campus on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, or for the next three months).
A dining services worker who has been here for more than 20 years: "I love y'all [students]… this is my community. You get close to these kids."
"They [the University] should treat us with respect, as a family."
There was blood inside the dining building (Prospector), near the Chick-fil-A, "and they wanted us to clean it up. That's awful…. We were all distressed and horrified." Fortunately, someone stepped forward (a student worker) to volunteer. (I also heard that housekeeping workers were asked to clean up inside Kennedy after the shooting but refused and UNC Charlotte hired an outside firm.)
Another dining services worker described the scene when one of the injured students ran into the dining hall. “I knew her… she was bleeding… And I will never forget."
This worker may have saved the life of the injured student. The worker was trained in CPR and prevented the student from going into shock. A few months later, I asked her (the worker): "Would you like to be recognized at the anniversary event?" "No, I just hope she [the student] is doing okay."
Dining workers, housekeeping and facilities management workers are an indispensable part of the "Niner Nation" we've heard much about lately. They have far more contact with our students than any administrators ever will. Each of these folks I've spoken with in recent days evinced much emotion and sadness as they talked about the shooting, the victims and the aftermath.