By Katelyn Campbell '17
Throughout my time at Wellesley, much lip service has been paid to socioeconomic equity with some small actions but few large gestures. Three College Government election cycles have come and gone since my first year, and each time around, candidates have cried out against the lack of equity amongst social classes at Wellesley. But, so far as I can tell, that vocal outrage left the public sphere as soon as the ballots were cast. As a result, students with financial need have essentially been left to fend for themselves in situations of injustice imposed by the College as our elected leaders cry “I’m too busy!” and retreat. Speaking for myself as a student who is on considerable financial aid, this lack of support beyond campaign week has led me to question the ability of College Government to represent my needs or concerns at all despite my three years of membership to and agitation within the body.
But there was a gleam of light earlier this year. In one of the proudest moments of my life at Wellesley, I was chosen to serve alongside rockstar Suzanne Barth on the Student Leadership Stipend committee, which eventually won compensation for Resident Assistants and House Presidents. This would be the first time students in either position would receive any sort of compensation in the history of the College. Things were looking up. We’d created 75+ jobs. I was jubilant.
By that point, it seemed natural for me to run for College Government President. I’d cultivated myself as a leader at Wellesley over two and a half years in Senate, in Residential Life, and as a Peer Health Educator. I loved the work I was doing on the Student Life Committee of the Board of Trustees, and I had built relationships with administrators that would likely sustain a certain level of trust and productivity provided that I was elected to the position. But there was just one thing: money.
College Government Cabinet positions are entirely unpaid despite the fact that they require tens of hours of work per week. Particularly in the case of the College Government President, this work, I am told, often adds up to nearly 30 hours per week of emailing, working in Senate and on committees, and attending meetings. Like many work-study students, that kind of sacrifice is unimaginable: I would have to give up my hard-won work-study job to do unpaid work, which, for my situation, would be extremely financially irresponsible.
So, in my case, the gig was up. I let the deadline for declaring my run for office pass and made plans to turn my thesis into an independent study so I could graduate early to save my family some financial hardship. I was upset, to be sure, but I generally just told people close to me that I’d decided to consider other options rather than disclose that, when it comes to running for and becoming CGP, I just can’t afford it.
Amidst all of this inner turmoil on my part, elections went on. Candidates started to pull their campaigns together. A last minute ballot initiative slid in under the wire. All seemed to be well.
But then, the Senate meeting before candidates were announced to the student body, we Senators received some unfortunate news: no student had indicated an interest in running for Secretary/Treasurer of College Government. Although candidates for this position have typically run unopposed, I was still shocked to hear that no one had decided to run: while it has been historically uncontested, the position has also been a leadership springboard for future College Government Presidents (Hana Glasser ‘15 and Adeline Lee ‘16 both served as Secretary/Treasurer, to cite recent examples).
When I talked to the few students I knew who had previously been interested in running for Secretary/Treasurer about why they’d decided not to run, a majority of them said that they’d chosen to become Resident Assistants instead. As RAs, they would receive compensation and would work more reasonable hours, as opposed to offering their entire lives for consumption at the price of little more than a head nod and the promise of mentorship.
Throughout the time that our small committee worked on designing and executing payment plans for RAs and HPs, we didn’t think too much about the ripple effect of the policy beyond the number of jobs we would create and the possibility of creating a larger applicant pool with more returning staff members for residential life staffs. The idea that student leaders would come to occupy these positions rather than applying or running for unpaid ones never crossed our minds. But it is clear to me now that our work has unearthed an even greater issue of socioeconomic equity on campus - that now, more than ever, Wellesley students are being pulled from crucial leadership roles by a need to cover their expenses.
By the end of elections week, the College had another very clear example of the need to compensate Cabinet members. Then, on election day, something unforeseeable happened. The sole candidate for Bursar, Rose Whitlock, dropped out of the race. Rose is a friend who I met through the Wellesley College Sexual Health Educators. She was the only candidate for whom I was completely comfortable casting my vote. When I found out she had dropped out, I was devastated. And when I found out why, I was completely heartbroken.
Like the rest of College Government Cabinet positions, the Student Bursar is unpaid. In addition to their duties as a contributor to Cabinet meetings, the Bursar is responsible for managing the entirety of the Student Activities fee - a job that takes over twenty hours per week alone. Rose, prior to running for Bursar, worked as a bookkeeper in the Bursar’s office. Unlike the Bursar, bookies are compensated at an hourly rate. As a work-study student, Rose needed to keep working, and was under the impression that her pay would not stop if she won the position of Bursar. After finding out that she would be unpaid if she won the position as-is, she and the current Bursar put together a proposal addressed to various administrators that would allow her to continue work in the Bursar’s office for pay comparable to her salary as a bookkeeper. That proposal was denied. Faced with no other financially reasonable options, Rose was forced to drop out of the race the afternoon of election day.
Had Rose been elected to the position of Student Bursar, she would have brought the sensibilities of a student who has to work to stay at Wellesley to one of the most important positions on CG Cabinet. Under her guidance, we might have finally found a way around the abominable SOFC policy that requires student organizations to front the cost of food and other items to be reimbursed weeks later (a process that fundamentally disadvantages lower income students when it comes to running for leadership positions in that presidents and E-Board members are often expected to foot the initial bill). But alas, that opportunity has passed.
If we at Wellesley are to truly support students who receive financial assistance from the College or need to work to make ends meet, it is crucial that we offer payment to members of College Government Cabinet in order to ensure that the deciding factor for whether or not a potential candidate chooses to run is their commitment to Wellesley, not how much their families are able to contribute to their budget.
I have often been critical, publicly and privately, of College Government leadership’s lack of response to issues of socioeconomic equity on campus, but I really believe that that lack of response is the symptom of a larger problem: a absence of voices of students who have a heavy stake in policy changes regarding socioeconomic equity in the room. Until we ensure that these positions are compensated, I don’t think it’s possible to adequately address the class issues that have plagued Wellesley students like me for so long.
From April 2016 issue