In honor of Women’s History Month, USF hosted the Global Women’s Rights Forum from March 5-7, which focused on the rights of women both within the U.S. and worldwide, with a special focus on those from marginalized communities. Though the week before spring break was full of events from the forum, the Foghorn selected two of the most prominent to recap for those who may have missed them in the madness of pre-break midterms: the keynote speaker, Professor Saru Jayaraman, and the installations by kōlam makers, who decorated parts of campus with their traditional rice flour drawings.
That is the national federal minimum wage for tipped workers.
UC Berkeley professor and attorney Saru Jayaraman repeated that number several times. As the keynote speaker of the forum, she used this number to connect the nation’s second-largest industry — the food industry — to issues of sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.
Professor Jayaraman’s talk was based in part on her book “Behind the Kitchen Door: The People Who Make and Serve Your Food,” which is about the sexism, racism and workplace harassment that occurs in the restaurant industry. Jayaraman’s speech focused on how servers reliance on tips to make a living wage amplifies the sexual harassment and racism they endure from both customers and their employers.
The restaurant industry is powerful, currently employing almost 14 million Americans. According to Jayaraman, around 50 percent of the country will work at a restaurant at some point in their lives, many times as their first job. Thus, restaurants provide new workers their first set of standards for employment.
“The restaurant industry is one of the largest in the United States, but it still pays its employees the lowest, bottom-of-the-barrel wages,” Jayaraman said.
This discrepancy is made possible by restaurants relying on the customer to pay the remainder of the worker’s wages through tips, which means the worker’s pay is highly subjected to the will of the customers. This system is actually a legacy of slavery, Jayaraman said, when post-abolition slaves were given jobs by reluctant employers, who decided to have customers and clients shoulder the wages of their worker instead of the employer.
“When you are a woman earning $2-3 an hour, you are living entirely on tips. So, you must do whatever it takes to provide for you and your family,” Jayaraman said. “Which, in many cases, means tolerating all sorts of inappropriate customer behavior in order to make a livable income.”
For example, when interviewing for jobs, Jayaraman said that many women report managers telling them to dress sexier — to show more cleavage and wear tighter clothing in order to make better tips.
“Women aren’t told to tolerate sexual harassment; they are told to go out and get it,” Jayaraman said. “And the more they get, the better worker they are.”
Because of this environment, 90 percent of men and women in the restaurant industry report experiencing threats and harassment, according to Jayaraman.
Jayaraman said that as long as restaurant workers are reliant on tips, harassment will be a serious problem. She believes that this can be reduced through the implementation of a livable minimum wage for tipped workers, who are largely women and people of color, which would grant the economic freedom to determine how they are treated at work.
There are currently movements on the national level attempting to address this problem. The Raise the Wage Act, which was introduced to Congress this year, would raise the national minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years. The current national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and has not increased since 2009.
While speeding through Kalmanovitz Hall on your way to your meeting or class, you may have noticed the beautifully intricate designs on either side of the medieval arch. The kōlam exhibit, “Feeding a Thousand Souls,” was curated by Vijaya Nagarajan, professor and chair of the theology and religious studies department, along with the Thatcher Gallery’s director, Glori Simmons.
Kōlams are intricate drawings made of wet and dry rice flour and are traditionally thought to represent wellness in a home.
During the Global Women’s Rights Forum, other kōlams could also be seen in front of Lo Schiavo as well as at the side entrance to McLaren, where events took place. Now, the only remaining kōlams on campus are in the Kalmanovitz Hall entrance, the third-floor terrace, which has remained mostly intact through the recent rain. These particular kōlams were made by Asha Harikrishnan, Ravie Kattaura and Prafullamukhi Prabhuvenkatesh.
The timing of the installation in conjunction with the Global Women’s Rights Forum was a happy accident, according to Nagarajan, who said that Simmons approached her with the idea of incorporating Nagarajan’s idea of kōlams on campus with the annual event.
“One of the things about the Global Women’s Rights Forum [and its topics] is that we always think about all the negativity around women’s experiences, which is very important in order to correct the social injustice around the world,” Nagarajan said. “But, at the same time, there are so many incredible things that women are doing that are not highlighted.”
Around 20 million Hindu women in India (as well as some Jain and Roman Catholic women, and women outside of India) wake up each morning before dawn every day and draw these elaborate patterns in front of the threshold of their houses, as well as temples and other public buildings.
These designs are a sign of wellbeing in the household they’re made for. They’re also impermanent; throughout the day, the flour is worn down and eaten by small critters and each morning, they are drawn again.
Kōlams and their symmetrical patterns have been used in the field of computer science.
The remaining kōlams in Kalmanovitz Hall will be available to the public until April 6.
Reporting done by Cassidy Riley, Mardy Harding, Hayley Burcher