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Students Address Worker Justice on Spring Break

Worker Justice DC

From left, Georgetown students Rahul Vasireddy (SFS'12), Farhana Esmail (SFS'11) and Dara Freeman (C'13) listen to presenter Nikki Lewis during the Worker Justice DC Alternative Spring Break Trip's visit to the Restaurant Opportunities Center DC.

Nine Georgetown students are spending their spring break immersing themselves in the plights of low-wage and immigrant service workers in Washington, D.C.

The Worker Justice DC Alternative Spring Break trip is a collaboration of Georgetown’s Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service and the university’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor.

World of Labor

“This trip is an opportunity to introduce students to the world of labor in D.C.,” said Sarah Heydemann (C’09), administrator and community liaison for the initiative. “Even though we’re going to be in D.C., we won’t be coming back to campus at all.”

Students on the trip stay in a Washington hostel from March 5-12. While they read about the issues of low-wage and immigrant service workers before the trip, the learning truly begins when they start interacting with laborers.

Worker Engagement

“What I think is really unique and really cool about our trip is the opportunity to connect to the immediate community around us,” said Vail Kohnert-Yount (SFS’13), co-leader of the trip. “We really want students to view this as sort of an immersion or orientation to the greater issues of the D.C. community.”

Students on the Worker Justice DC trip plan to teach English to day laborers, meet with top-level labor and political officials and talk with young Georgetown alumni involved with labor issues.

“It’s really difficult to understand the condition that someone works in,” Heydemann said. “It’s far and away the best when the workers can engage with the students.”

Piquing Interest

“All those experiences I think will be very educational and very exciting,” said Kohnert-Yount.

Kohnert-Yount, who is in the School of Foreign Service’s Science, Technology and International Affairs program, said the Worker Justice DC trip already has had an effect on her academic goals.

“This trip really piques my interest in worker justice issues,” she says. “Now I’m doing research with professors on labor-related issues. This is really the project that sparked my interest in that.”

Other aspects of the program include group and individual self-reflection to get students thinking about what they can do about worker justice once they return to campus.

Community Contribution

“What we hope to get across is the range of experiences people in the city have,” Kohnert-Yount says. “I think something we really want to emphasize is its not just about the student’s experiences, it’s what we can contribute to the community once the week is over.”

Heydemann hopes the trip will expose the Georgetown community to the importance of labor issues and challenge how students think of the working class.

“We plan to tackle some of these issues of power and privilege, we’re not going to shy away from them,” she says. “It’s a real vital part of the experience to be able to parse out where we all fall into these issues.”

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