At the end of last semester, Career Education implemented a pilot RSVP policy for several programs which has been met with concern and discontent by students. The new policy states that failure to attend a mandatory meeting or event for which a student was registered will result in their access to Handshake being revoked until such time as they meet with a member of Career Education and clarify the reasons for their absence. Handshake, an online portal, gives opportunities to Wellesley students to “apply for jobs, register for events and view resources,” as explained by its website. Currently, a majority of students on campus rely on Handshake to find internships and learn about events or open positions that might be relevant to their fields of interest. Revoking access to Handshake has drawn criticism by the student body, who view the punishment as too great for the transgression.
Students have come forward with complaints about a lack of communication between themselves and Career Education, specifically about Career Education’s failure to inform them of the policy changes. Marketing and Digital Media Manager Theresa Mattern, however, has emphasized that the policy changes were communicated clearly, stating that “the policy was outlined within the Handshake event description for the applicable programs and reiterated repeatedly by email in advance of the event to students who had RSVPed, to ensure clear communication for those affected by the policy in its pilot stage, with instructions on how to change their RSVP if necessary.” Mattern says that it will be shared with the rest of the Wellesley student body “after the new website has been put up and the policy has been finalized.”
Izzy Gelfand ’20, a student who had her Handshake revoked for missing the “Social Justice is a Verb” event, affirms that students were informed about the policy change but noted that “it was written in small print at the bottom of the email … I think that’s deceptive and don’t think it’s a sufficient means of communicating such a big change.”
Amanda Wahlstedt ’20, another student who has experienced trouble with this policy, missed the Jump the Slump Sophomore Career Retreat, which occurred from Jan. 24 to 26. Due to a missed train and flight––an unavoidable circumstance at the time—she was unable to explain the details of her situation to Career Education in time. In an email exchange with career mentor Sheryl Rosenberg, Wahlstedt was told, “We [Career Education] are very disappointed in your communication around this and lack of professional commitment to your agreement. I do hope that you realize there are other students who could’ve participated in your place, and that at this point we have employers and alumnae counting on your attendance that reflects poorly back on the college and impacts their willingness to engage with Wellesley in the future. Additionally, we have already spent money and many, many hours of time on your individual place in this weekend, which cannot be replaced at this point. This can be considered an honor code violation.” Rosenberg could not be reached for comment.
Since Career Education was “disappointed with [Wahlstedt’s] communication around the situation,” as they communicated in one of the emails that were exchanged, they urged her to meet with them after she returned to discuss professionalism in the workplace. Until she was able to meet with them, her access to Handshake and the Hive—a new online platform to connect alumnae and students—were both revoked.
Wahlstedt’s roommate, Gelfand, worries that Career Education “underestimates how critical Handshake is to students’ goals and aspirations [and is] discouraging students from using Handshake altogether because they’re afraid of the ramifications.” Gelfand said she would not have signed up if she had known the possible repercussions, especially since she had an internship application due in the days following her Handshake being shut down.
The punishment has raised issues of class and accessibility as well, as both Wahlstedt and Gelfand expressed. In Wahlstedt’s Feb. 13 Medium article “At Wellesley, Anxiety is now a Punishable Offense,” she states, “the truth remains that low-income students are always required to humiliate ourselves and expose our situations to be judged for worthiness before we can receive help.” Gelfand notes that “[The] policy is particularly harmful to low-income students because Handshake is a place where students rely on to find paying jobs. The implementation of this policy affects low-income students much more than it affects high-income students. High-income students have something to fall back on if their accounts were to be shut down, whereas low-income students do not. This is also particularly threatening to graduating seniors, who are using Handshake to make decisions that dramatically affect their lives postgrad.”
In Wahlstedt’s opinion, this punishment was not proportional to the offense. Many students have agreed with her, despite Career Education’s assertion that thus far, “the policy has been well-accepted and respected by a majority of impacted students.” When Career Education was asked to explain the process and reasoning behind creating this policy, Mattern stated that it was done based on “feedback from employers and alumnae, that they are less inclined to recruit on-campus or organise events when students who RSVP don’t attend programs,” and “complaints from other students who shared their frustration when unable to gain access to an event because the RSVP list is full but registered students still do not attend,” thus countering the accusation that students were not taken into consideration during the process.
Students have reiterated Wahlstedt and Gelfand’s concerns that no student opinions were sought while putting the new system in place, and that there should have been a panel of students who were asked what they thought about a policy that was going to affect them directly. “When I inform students and professors about this new policy, the most common reaction is shock and disbelief. Almost no one I discussed this policy with was aware of it before my conversation with them. People think that this is a paternalistic move by Career Services,” Gelfand said.
Mattern clarified that “this policy does not permanently revoke Handshake access … Our goal in developing this policy is to build awareness of how professional etiquette impacts accessibility for all students.” But revoking Handshake and other platforms like the Hive has impacts on students that can be overwhelming, and this newest decision by Career Education has reflected poorly on its intended purpose, Wahlstedt wrote in her Medium article. “In a high-pressure environment like Wellesley—where students already face grade deflation devaluing our work and personal struggles that go overlooked [by faculty]—labeling students as unprofessional, threatening them and holding their future hostage is simply not honorable and truly unprofessional,” she wrote.