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Inflatable Rat on Campus Symbolizes Union Strike

Natalie Zickel
The rat blow-up is inflated everyday near the heavily trafficked cross walk.

This August, Villanova students moving back to campus were greeted with familiar faces, new dorm rooms and a giant rat outside the Jake Nevin Field House. 


This rat has acquired a reputation on campus, appearing on private stories, Instagram posts and even a personalized dating account on Tinder. 


But why is it here? What does it symbolize? The small group of men and women that have been returning each morning with the rat spoke on their reasoning for protesting since early August.


“Wages and standards,” an anonymous male protester said. “Just trying to keep the wages and standards at a certain rate. There is a certain rate for the area, but then certain contractors come in and they’ll lower the rate by paying their guys less and the guys aren’t aware of what they should be making.” 


This male protest was accompanied by a female protester, who also requested to remain anonymous. She reasoned that the differences in wages might not seem that significant on paper but can negatively impact the livelihood of these workers. 


“When you make less money, first of all, families suffer, and you’re not spending in the community,” she said. “The trickle-down effect of it all is bigger than what it appears to be.”


Student reactions to the rat on campus have varied from confusion to entertainment, while some did not even notice the rat at all. 


“I didn’t even know there was a rat,” senior Hope Walker said.


 “Why was it there?” senior Elsa Fernandez said. “Why the rat?”


These students were not the only ones with questions. During Orientation Week for the Class of 2027, new Villanova parents were shocked by the presence of this rat while saying goodbye to their children. The male protester said that he recalls parents approaching him with concerned looks, asking if there was a rat problem on campus.


“A lot of people don’t get the concept of what it means,” the female protester said when recounting how members of the Villanova community have interacted with the sign of union protest. 


The inflatable rat, also referred to as a union rat or “Scabby the Rat,” has been a symbol of union protests since the 1980s. If union members disagree or dislike the hiring practices of labor contractors, they will set up this rat until the issue is resolved. 


The rat grabs attention, and forces viewers to question why it is there. This is the goal of the rat, as protestors hope to attract attention to what they believe are unjust practices in nonunion labor employment. 


“We are just trying to help the workers out, which helps everyone out,” the male protester said.


“Everyone deserves to have family security or to send their kids to dance class or not have to work two jobs,” the female protester said. 


However, as is typical of college students, a variety of memes have been created about the rat that sits outside Jake Nevin. Many students began to make jokes about the presence of this ugly inflatable cartoon without understanding why it was there. Some have even approached the protestors themselves and asked if they could take a picture of them with the rat. 


“I don’t really understand how the rat is symbolic of fair pay, but I do support their cause,” senior Hannah Bisson said.


The protestors stated that this is mostly a contractor and worker issue, and although they said Villanova could do more, they had no concrete answers as to what they believe the University could do to satisfy their protest. 


“The wage difference to the worker and to the whole project isn’t that big, but how it is spread amongst employees is a lot different,” the male protester said.


If students wonder why this rat is on Villanova’s campus, the answer is simple: three protestors typically arrive in the morning and blow up the rat, which can be seen as students exit the I-1 garage. The rat is there due to an issue of labor, union beliefs and people protesting something they feel is unjust. 


If students have more questions, the protestors stated that they welcome inquiries and enjoy explaining their reasoning for returning to the outskirts of Villanova’s campus on a near-daily basis. 


Students might wonder why Villanova has not been able to get rid of what some might consider an eyesore on the edge of our campus. 


“This group is exercising their right to protest on public property near campus,” the University said in a statement to the Villanovan.. “The University cannot control public space. Other groups or individuals have used this space in past to also exercise their free speech.”


However, the University added in their statement that they followed their typical procedures when selecting the contractors for this construction project. 


“As Villanova always does when selecting the best partners for our construction projects, the University used a competitive bidding process—which includes and encourages participation from union contractors and sub-contractors,” the University stated. “Identifying the ‘best partner’ means we seek to work with the most qualified contactors across a number of areas, including experience, training, safety record and capacity – in addition to financial considerations.”


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About the Contributor
Natalie Zickel, Co-Digital Editor

Natalie Zickel holds the position of Co-Digital Editor in 2024. Entering her second year in this role, she is a sophomore Communication major aspiring to specialize in Journalism and Media Production. When Natalie isn’t creating graphics and TikToks for The Villanovan, she is taking pictures for the photography section or filming basketball games for Villanova Television. Her favorite article of clothing is fun patterned pants, which she loves to coordinate with earrings.

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