I’ve been educated by two prestigious institutions in my life – the second sits here on the banks of the Genesee, but the first institution consists of one man, Edgar Anderson.

Anderson and his wife Marion poured their lives and love into the Kopper Kettle Restaurant on Rochester’s Chili Avenue for more than 40 years. Somewhere in those 40 years I came along as their grandson. Sitting at the counter in their coffee shop or dressed up for dinner in the dining room, I learned how to treat people with respect and compassion by watching the way my grandfather spoke to customers and, more importantly, to his employees. Whether you were sitting at table one or washing dishes, you were part of his family.

While I’m glad the university has reached a tentative agreement with SEIU 1199, the way UR is treating its staff still doesn’t live up to my grandfather’s standards. The fundamental issues remain unchanged. The people who clean our dorms and serve “All You Care To Eat” are often forced to make hard choices about how much food they can put on their own tables. We’ve felt compelled as a university to reach out to the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, but the Nineteenth Ward of Rochester has to fight for fair wages and affordable health care. Meliora Weekend featured a panel that repeatedly pointed to systemic poverty as the real disaster in the Gulf – Katrina only showed it to us in Technicolor. These scholars each emphasized that we, the citizens who don’t have to work Saturdays and can come to lectures, are the ones who have to put an end to the truly third world conditions in the heart of American cities.

Our own distinguished faculty has highlighted the problem. Their scholarship must be followed by our action.

We don’t have to look south to take on this challenge. We must challenge our budgets, but more importantly, our tragic misconceptions of race and class in our nation. We must look west, just across the Genesee. Many people walk across the footbridge every morning before dawn, and 500 yards from the grave of Frederick Douglass they walk in the back doors and keep their heads down. They are not treated as part of our family and not deemed worthy to benefit from our commitment to “Always Better.”

My grandfather ran his business and lives his life on the principle that actions speak louder than words. President Seligman and other respected members of the administration – thank you for taking this first step. Many more await. We as students are learning from your actions. In your decisions about how this university participates in the Rochester community, consider yourselves at the lecture podium. Are we to learn that growth in the endowment can continue to come at the expense of those who can least afford it, or is it time to change the lesson plan?

Adair can be reached at cadair@campustimes.org.

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