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Thursday, Oct 6, 2022

MiddView leaders paid $300 stipend for orientation work

<p>New students participate in square dancing, a popular orientation event.</p>

New students participate in square dancing, a popular orientation event.

Middlebury orientation leaders, or “MiddView” leaders, are being paid a stipend of $300 this year for their work leading orientation for new students.

The decision comes after years of leaders asking the college for compensation. Discussions had already begun last spring, before Valerie Nettleton, the director of student involvement and leadership development joined the team in May 2021 to oversee this fall’s orientation program.

Orientation leaders, however, were not notified that they would be paid until they were already in training this August, as to not release the information before it was finalized, according to Nettleton.

Cody Mattice ’24 signed up to be a MiddView leader simply because he liked to be on campus early, and was pleased when he learned leaders would receive a stipend this fall.

“It’s nice because you have a bunch of people who were dedicated enough that they were going to do this for free, and then now it’s a very pleasant surprise,” he said.

But a significant component of students’ past argument for pay was that it would encourage students to sign up to be leaders, making it more equitable and strengthening the program.

“It felt really weird that we were being compensated but weren’t told that until we were already like a week into training because I felt like that just kind of negated the whole point of what we had been talking about,” Jessica Buxbaum ’23, who was a MiddView leader for the third time this year, said.

The amount of money that leaders would receive was not disclosed until the last day of training. In students’ estimates, when they broke down the $300 by their total hours worked, it amounted to less than four dollars an hour.

“Which almost feels like I’d rather not be paid,” Buxbaum said. “I’d rather not think that you value my time as four dollars an hour.”

The first time that MiddView leaders received a stipend was in the spring of 2021, when Dean of Students Derek Doucet sent an email to a collection of student leaders across campus recognizing their work for the summer and fall of 2020. Buxbaum was told that leaders from last year would be paid as well, but they have yet to hear anything more.

The decision to pay MiddView leaders was reached because the students’ roles fulfilled one of the core missions of Middlebury, and was deemed critical, according to Nettleton.

In recent years, MiddView leaders have taken on a greater amount of responsibility. Groups were generally bigger this year, about 14 or 15 students per group compared to 10 or 11 in past years, leaders said. And prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, leaders were only responsible for the students in their groups for the weekend they were on their MiddView trips — three-day outings that ranged from volunteering at local animal shelters to advanced-level backpacking. With this in mind, leaders would receive wilderness first aid training certification that was paid for by the school.

But with the college no longer running trips, leaders no longer receive wilderness training. Leaders arrived on Aug. 25 and completed training sessions from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the first nine days they were on campus. The training consisted of many large group sessions in Wilson Hall, where they were split into smaller groups called “herds.” Leaders also learned from representatives from key offices around Middlebury, including the Health Center, Disability Resource Center, the Scott Center and the Title IX office in addition to learning about restorative practices. The leaders were also responsible for preparing the first years for course registration.

The MiddView team had another three days dedicated to training for the specific day trips offered, which fit into three categories: outdoor exploration, community engagement and Vermont exploration.

“Canoeing, kayaking, standup paddleboarding, hiking, running and indoor climbing are the activities that I am planning. There are also many non-outdoorsy activities such as jazz jam session or exploring hunger and homelessness that other staff are planning,” Doug Connelly, director of outdoor programs and club sports, wrote in an email to The Campus.

New students arrived Sept. 5, and the orientation team had a pep rally for them that night. The leaders met with their groups every day through Sunday, Sept. 12.

For the first time this year, MiddView leaders were tasked with leading the Green Dot training, but were only given a few days’ warning to prepare for it. The Green Dot program is a bystander intervention training that provides students with the tools to prevent violence in the community.

“It was very off-putting to be told that,” Buxbaum said. “It’s a sensitive topic that I think a lot of people could very easily have been like, ‘Actually, I have like a lot of trauma with this, and I’m not comfortable giving the training,’ and then I don’t know what they would have done, if people didn’t just step up and do what they were told.”

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These changes were unrelated to the payment decision, according to Nettleton. However, Buxbaum felt that payment was held over the MiddView leaders’ heads as justification for more work.

Mattice also noted that he felt the stipend was treated as a reward rather than something leaders deserved for their hours worked.

“The way it was kind of talked about, it was almost as if it was like a special treat we were getting paid, as opposed to something that we deserved,” Mattice said. “Which I don’t necessarily think is the right attitude about it.”

Mattice was also surprised the orientation program had operated without payment for so long.

“It’s kind of odd to me that the school relied on free labor to put together this orientation program for so long, when we are like student employees, really, for a couple weeks,” he said.


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