It is a shame that Wellesley College, a historically women’s college, was one of the last institutions to value the work of its Resident Assistants. The uncomfortable truth of Wellesley’s choice not to compensate its female and nonbinary students is that it sounds a whole lot like the real world. According to the UN, countries save millions to billions of dollars each year by not compensating women for their work, from informal services to housework. While Wellesley is not a sovereign state, the underlying truth remains clear. Society expects women to provide service and not get compensated for it. Society conditions women to be undervalued. And, here at Wellesley College, students under financial strain need not apply to be on college government.
In many of my classes, my professors and peers have challenged each other, myself included, to question institutional inertia and break the glass ceiling. We pride ourselves on our academic prestige and pioneering leadership; yet in practice, we often fail to demonstrate our values or take initiative. We followed Mount Holyoke’s example in admitting students who identify as transgender. We resisted change until we were the very last college to compensate RAs and HPs. There is nothing wrong in following precedence, but in doing so we cannot claim to lead or to minister.
All CG offices are unpaid positions, but interestingly enough, the CGVP will oversee paid SOAC appointments and organization coordinators and the Bursar will work with paid bookkeepers. One could observe that we do not compensate our CG offices because the Wellesley student takes initiative and offers their services relentlessly for free, or the campus culture ensures a huge supply of students for limited positions. Yet, our College Government elections are, on average, uncontested. This year, positions remained unclaimed for days, and we still do not have a Bursar for the very reason that the job is an unsustainable, financially burdensome commitment. One can easily imagine that with tuition hiking nearly $2,000, many student leaders instead would pursue paid RA positions due to increased financial obligations.
According to the American Student Government Association, more than 77 percent of institutions nationwide offer compensation to their respective CG offices. However, smaller schools are statistically less likely to value the work of their students. This observation is quite true of Wellesley, even outside of CG. The editors of the Wellesley News invest many hours into printing the News — more than 10 and easily 24 if you’re the Editor-in-Chief. They do not get paid or compensated to any degree. Yet, the Columbia Daily Spectator provides work study for 50 staff members. Likewise, Harvard, Vanderbilt, University of Georgia and other institutions provide some sort of compensation. By doing so, their newsrooms are diverse, legitimate and welcoming. In that regard, if we compensate students who go above and beyond to serve the Wellesley community, our CG cabinet can also be diverse, legitimate and welcoming.
However, acquiring compensation for CG offices and other stations will not be easy. First, many will argue that students should volunteer selflessly and not get paid. After all, it was a choice to participate. Yet, students who cannot afford to be on CG cannot be assumed to lack genuine interest. Nor should we deter them from running. CG officers provide on average 12 to 15 hours a week of work, face immense pressure and stress and give up their jobs to enact change on campus. We, as a community, refuse students from low socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to pursue the very leaderships that are promised to them upon admission. By denying them the ability to pursue these vital leadership positions, we witness a lack of diversity — in more ways than just socioeconomic diversity — in the initiatives, planning and conversations on our campus.
Second, I must be fair to the bureaucratic process. The administrators I know and with whom many of us work are kind, caring individuals who do deeply value the students on campus. They work tirelessly and diligently in their livelihoods, but are often relegated to positions and opinions that fall in line with administrative inertia. As Isabelle van de Walle ’17 asserted at Senate on Monday, the administration has been working with the Bursar for the past nine years on this. Understandably, nothing will change at Wellesley unless we demand it collectively as students. For years, we did not have a multicultural house, and through the hard and persistent work of several campaigns and students, Acorns will now be the home of many diverse organizations. Similar initiatives brought about RA and HP compensation. The same will go for dismantling socioeconomic barriers in CG.
I have faith that we will find a solution to this embedded classism. I believe our administration does too. However, students do not bear sole responsibility in addressing the financial circumstance that irrevocably deters talented, capable and extraordinary individuals from leadership positions. These barriers are of a predominant and unacceptable narrative.
Alas, the Wellesley administration will not pay for CG offices because it states that there would be a conflict of interest in student representation. Indeed, the administration does not need to provide salaried positions. We can compensate via the Student Activity Fees through the Ballot initiative. We can campaign for work-study positions. We can work towards tuition or course credits. We can provide stipends to leaders when their job is complete and well evaluated. Or, we can provide financial assistance to student leaders. In any case, we will work collaboratively and find a solution. By deciding to compensate CG offices, Wellesley moves not from service-driven to career-oriented. Rather, it wholeheartedly affirms a commitment to diversity and equal access.
Amal Cheema, Opinions Editor