Chloe Sigal’s passion for the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) radiated on Locust as she walked alongside fellow SLAP members during their first rally. The experience she described was quite inspiring. She explained the many successes of this campaign—workers that were under orders not to tell students about their work conditions were given a voice. The workers shared their stories about how poverty wages affect their lives. Her inspiring stories and dedication toward the growing student movement for economic justice are what made her this week’s Campus Celebrity.
Do you hold a specific position in SLAP?
One of the great things about SLAP is its non-hierarchality. We try to practice the society we’re aiming for, one where power is shared horizontally rather than distributed vertically. Although we rotate certain roles on a weekly basis and self-assign tasks, no one has a designated position because everyone is encouraged and mentored to step up as a leader. Even in the thick of our current campaign, we are trying to empower new members to actively participate in our consensus process from the first meeting.
When and why did you choose to get involved with SLAP?
I’ve been involved with SLAP since the fall semester of my freshman year! I talked to some SLAPistas at the activities fair and immediately identified with what the group tries to accomplish and its vision of a more just society.
I’m sure you’ve had many eye-opening experiences in SLAP this year. Could you tell us about an experience that was especially inspirational?
Our current project, Justice on the Menu, is a campaign in solidarity with subcontracted dining hall workers on campus. Getting to know these workers has been an incredible experience for me. In a place like Penn, it’s easy to pat yourself on the back for being hard-working after you pull an all-nighter to study, or to feel like a “go-getter” because you advocated for yourself to a professor. From convocation to commencement we are told countless times that we are “future leaders” because we are “the best, the brightest, the most determined, etc.” and it’s so easy and self-affirming to rest on those laurels and confuse our privilege for character or merit. Now that I know Kareem and Troy and Rabia and everyone else, I know those speeches to be not only arrogant but ridiculously false. “Most determined” is Kareem working a full 8-hour shift every single day, no weekend breaks or sick days, the entire year after his son was born. “Best and brightest” [and] “most resourceful” is Rabia stretching a poverty wage to feed and clothe three young kids. I am in awe of these brilliant, brave, badass people and getting to know them has both inspired me and shown me how hurtful and destructive the meritocracy myth truly is.
What was the last project you participated in?
Last year, I ran a campaign to get Penn’s bookstore to increase its market share of ethically-made college apparel. Alta Gracia, based in the Dominican Republic, is the only retailer in the college apparel market that pays its workers a living wage and runs its factory in partnership with its union. The campaign goal was for Penn to commit to a $150,000 Alta Gracia contract (the same contract that other schools like Duke and NYU have committed to) in order to send a clear anti-sweatshop message to the apparel industry. Although we didn’t accomplish this (yet, I’m hoping to continue the campaign at some point), the bookstore sells a lot more Alta Gracia than it did before and Alta Gracia is now sold in the front of the store and has its own window display.
In your opinion, what was SLAP’s biggest victory this year?
Our first rally of the campaign was a huge victory. Workers who were under orders not to tell students about their work conditions stood in the middle of campus, with about 100 students and even some administrators standing by, and told stories about how poverty wages affect their lives into a loud, loud microphone. They were taking up space on a campus that expects them to stay hidden and that day, I think they recognized how powerful they truly were. I’m honored that SLAP was able to be a part of that.
What’s one of your favorite classes at Penn?
I took Journalism/Memoir (ENGL 010) with Jamie-Lee Josselyn last year, and I loved it. I’m planning to take Advanced Journalistic Writing with Dick Polman next year, and I’m super excited!
Since you’re a Philly native, you’re probably a pro at getting around the city. What’s one Philly attraction that every Penn student needs to check out?
The Mutter museum, which is a medical museum founded in the 1700s, is truly unique. I’ve been there I don’t know how many times for field trips, and the preserved fetuses that demonstrate different mutations still freak me out.
For something tamer, have a dinner date at Cafette in Chestnut Hill. I used to hostess there and the food is SO good and eating in a garden is just nice.
How can people help SLAP’s cause?
Sign the Justice on the Menu petition at www.justiceonthemenu.com/petition, like the SLAP @ Penn Facebook page, tell everyone you know about the campaign, and on a deeper level, question the way our society is run, the assumptions we make, and the injustices we have been taught to accept.