Midterms are one of the worst parts of fall. School has ramped up, it’s getting colder, and there are no breaks in sight until Thanksgiving. But the worst part for a lot of students is when your summer savings start to run out.
For “student leaders” this problem is exasperated by higher workloads and little to no pay. All across campus students are doing unpaid labor to recruit and retain students and to keep the University functioning.
This problem breaks down into a few parts: lack of support, lack of pay, and lack of consideration.
The first issue is a lack of support. The majority of employees under Student Affairs and administration have multiple roles which ensure they are pulled in multiple directions never being able to fully dedicate their time to one responsibility. This results in advisors who oversee these groups of students not being accessible to students in the way they need leading to more work on students and burnout.
The next issue is a lack of pay. There are few stipend “leadership” positions on campus, meaning the majority of these students doing this labor are working for free. The students getting paid make far below minimum wage.
Never would the University ask a staff member to work for a subminimum wage. Why? Because they are unionized, but students don’t have those protections. They are instead forced to receive their compensation in the form of “leadership experience” and the potential of a letter of recommendation that might help them get scholarships in the future.
Many, if not most, of “student leaders” work second jobs and still struggle to get by, relying on loans, the Maverick food pantry, and SNAP benefits. It’s true that many of these organizations can request more money in their budgets at the end of the year, but the issue is deeper than that.
The University can step up and support leaders through shared parking passes, tuition assistance, excused absences for large events and meetings, like the protections other groups of students on campus have, and full-time staff members. When these concerns are brought up students are often met with sympathy instead of solutions.
The University is already struggling to get students involved in organizations back to pre-pandemic levels and without serious changes to the way we treat student leaders the problem will likely get worse.
At the core of this issue is a lack of consideration for the labor students are doing. Students are giving tours that recruit students, throwing large-scale events to stay engaged with the community, and talking with donors and legislators to help secure funding among a million other things.
Obviously these jobs are important, but why is all of this work largely unpaid when, if students weren’t doing it, these jobs would come with salaries and benefits? This is not to say that students should be paid anytime they want to volunteer or give back to the community, but these roles aren’t getting volunteer hours either.
This University has a higher rate of food insecurity than the national average and a 10-month-old food pantry that is already maxed out and has outgrown its space. It is not surprising considering a constant rise in costs without a raise in pay.
It is time we start to reject the label of “leader” and ask instead to be respected as necessary contributors to the school. At a time when tuition is on the rise, the country is recovering from economic collapse, and a worker shortage results in less support and higher workloads, the University needs to make a commitment to pay their students and support them as learners and as workers.