Wellesley’s diversity extends only as far as the salaries that student workers receive. For instance, Resident Assistants (RAs) receive $2,100, House Presidents (HPs) receive $2,300 and Orientation coordinators receive $2,500. Yet some student workers receive nothing at all. It seems that the only student workers getting paid are those working under offices run directly by college administration. For example, Ask-Me’s — who are present during Orientation and guide and support first year students — work under the Dean of First Years. Similarly, RAs and HPs—which are part of the Office of Residential Life — receive stipends for their work. Public speaking tutors and writing tutors, who are employees of the Pforzheimer Learning and Teaching Center (PTLC) and the Writing Program respectively, receive payment for their time and dedication, as they should. Undoubtedly, the contributions of these students are crucial, and their time and effort should be compensated. Yet, Balanced and Sexual Health Educators (BHEs and SHEs) and The Wellesley News staff, among many other on-campus organizations, receive no payment for their work. A clear, common theme stands out among the paid jobs: only students working directly with the departments of the college administration get paid, which is strikingly unfair. It disincentivizes students on campus from applying to unpaid job positions, which are equally crucial to the well being of students. It also trivialises the work done by unpaid student workers, giving them and their jobs a reputation of being less important.
Of course, that is not to say that these groups do not deserve to be paid. RAs and HPs are invaluable to the college because employing students in these positions saves the college the effort of hiring professional staff to do the same job for higher pay. Additionally, it is practically impossible for Area Coordinators alone to keep a watchful eye on students in the same way RAs and HPs do. While the students in these roles are certainly entitled to their wages, we must question what differentiates the effort they put in from the effort put in by students like Slater regional representatives, who also come back to campus early and undergo similar training, but receive no payment. Their jobs are as beneficial to the community as that of an RA, for both are responsible for ensuring an easy transition for students into campus life.
Wellesley College is a high-pressure environment with an intense stress culture, where academics take priority over everything else. The root of this issue of student compensation can be traced back to the preponderance of academics on campus. Public Speaking and Writing tutors get paid, but BHEs and SHEs don’t. Good GPAs appear to reflect better on the college than good mental and sexual health, or overall nutrition and wellbeing. I don’t think that reform of this problem should be looked at from the perspective of how it may ultimately change the institution’s reputation, but rather how the lack of change affects students now.
BHEs and SHEs are among the students who have to undergo training and plan a number of events throughout the school year. Classified as Peer Health Educators, they are a student-run organization and do not get compensated. However, they are still crucial to the Wellesley community because their informative talks, panels and fairs target issues that are relevant to every student, issues that often go unnoticed and unattended to. The services that these Peer Health Educators provide involves a substantial time commitment in terms of planning events and attending weekly meetings, comparable to what is outlined in an RA’s job description.
If the criteria for paid jobs is the number of hours put into organizations that serve the general student body, how does the paid 40 hours of an Ask-Me weigh against the SHEs, who hold weekly meetings all year round, or against members of The Wellesley News, Wellesley Review and Counterpoint, whose timely meetings are in addition to the hours spent editing, writing and laying out their publications?
A major controversy surrounding the college is funding of compensation for College Government (CG) members. I don’t think the people that CG serve should be the ones paying for their funding because none of the other organizations on campus, such as The Wellesley News or the SHEs, who are as important in serving the college community, are even getting paid, let alone getting funded by their fellow students. Making decisions about where CG funding should come from takes away from the real discussion about why these students are qualified to be paid in the first place over other student groups. The job of The Wellesley News can be compared to that of CG, both of which are crucial to the functioning of the student body, albeit in different ways.
Compensating one and not the other is cause for trouble. Wellesley needs to rethink its payment policies because the problem extends much further than just who should get paid to how much students need to be paid. There needs to be a clearer and more definite criteria to determine which jobs qualify for pay. Our college is one of the few universities where the RA’s stipend does not cover their room and board. Hopefully, policies will be reworked over time, and change will be brought about as it has in the recent past, like when RAs on campus started being paid. It might take a few more protests by students to accomplish this goal, but it is well worth the effort.