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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Orientation Leaders are underpaid – let’s refuse the role until wages improve

Reflecting on my experiences as an Orientation Assistant for the new first-year Febs in 2022, a job I originally deemed invigorating and fun, I realized that I will never do it again. I am not alone in this sentiment; my friends who worked as orientation leaders share similar feelings. Like me, they have opted not to apply as orientation leaders again due to the substandard pay they received weeks after they finished their jobs. In 2022, the college decided to pay students a one-time payment of $300 for eight hours of daily training during their training period and once students arrived, leaders usually worked more than five hours per day. A 2022 article in The Middlebury Campus revealed that leaders are paid less than $4 per hour, which is unacceptably low for the work they do.

If we want Middlebury to increase the pay stipend, we have to advocate for it directly from the college, as it seems unlikely to happen organically. It is crucial to emphasize that being an orientation leader is a significant and essential role, one that only Middlebury students can fulfill due to our unique connection to the college and experiences as students. With this in mind, if you have already applied, I ask that you reconsider your decision and decline the position. Creating change requires unity, and our strength lies in the collective action we can only perform together. By encouraging fellow students to not apply and spreading awareness about the stipend issue, we can send a powerful message to the college administration. 

This is a plea for the college to review and hopefully raise the stipend for orientation leaders, recognizing their crucial role. Together, we must push for fair compensation that accurately reflects orientation leaders’ dedication to their positions. Leaders go above and beyond, and the current pay doesn't match their commitment. It's time for the college to acknowledge and rectify this by fairly compensating our leaders. Let us work together to make sure we get an increased stipend for all orientation leaders.  

I applied to be an orientation assistant because I wanted to be a supportive presence for new students and help them feel welcome during what can be an intimidating transition to college life. During my first semester, I experienced the social pressure that comes with trying to quickly make friends, and I wanted to ease it for others. Connecting with and assisting new students was my way of contributing to a positive start for them in the college experience. 

Slightly different from the responsibilities of orientation leaders, my responsibilities as an Orientation Assistant included assembling around 100 goodie bags to give to incoming Febs during class registration, providing support to orientation leaders in organizing materials for group activities and running various errands. Orientation leaders are responsible for facilitating a smooth transition for new students. They engage in regular meetings, where students are introduced to each other, play group games, and share thoughts and feelings. These activities aim to promote connections among the incoming class and integrate them into the Middlebury community. Additionally, orientation leaders conduct one-on-one meetings to address individual concerns about class registration, orientation activities and other matters. Because I worked with orientation leaders on organizing activities for students, I gained insights into the effort and dedication they put in each day. 

While I found certain aspects of my role as an orientation assistant rewarding, other aspects left me dumbfounded at how the college compensates students in these positions.

I was pleased to receive a compensation of $13.58 per hour, commensurate with the wage associated with a Skilled B-level worker. This compensation felt fair and reflective of the workload I undertook. However, when discussing compensation with orientation leaders, I was surprised to learn that they earned less despite putting in the same, if not more, hours than I had. Leaders work tirelessly to ensure a positive experience for incoming students. Offering orientation leaders a stipend of $300 for their duration of work seems disproportionately low, and it's a sentiment shared by many in the role. 

The compensation for the amount of work orientation leaders put in is notably low. I have three friends who worked as orientation leaders last semester, and each of them expressed concerns about both the workload and the pay they received. All my friends found the training period to be excessively long, involving extended sessions of up to three hours at a time. The general consensus among them and others is that the compensation doesn't align with the demanding nature of their job. 

Upon hearing widespread dissatisfaction with the stipend for orientation leaders, we took the initiative to create a petition advocating for an increase. While our initial demand sought a considerably higher wage, we adjusted our proposal after consulting several orientation leaders. They expressed that a $500 stipend would be more reasonable and reflective of the efforts they invest in their roles. Consequently, we launched a petition urging the school to raise the stipend accordingly for future leaders. It garnered support from 60 out of 98 fall 2023 orientation leaders. In addition to circulating the petition, I forwarded it to one of the higher-ups of the orientation team to show them the student leaders' widespread support for this petition. 

I also had the opportunity to meet with a member of the Office of the First Year Experience and I appreciate their openness to hearing and discussing our pay concerns. However, despite the positive dialogue, I was informed by the administrator that the likelihood of a stipend increase is low, which was initially disheartening. Nevertheless, I understood that advocating for a pay raise would be no easy task.  

It is worth noting that Middlebury College boasts significant financial resources, with an endowment exceeding a billion dollars and ongoing fundraising efforts. The call for a higher stipend is rooted in the belief that the hard work of the students holding these positions merits a modest increase. Raising the stipend extends beyond monetary value; it symbolizes the school's respect for and acknowledgment of the dedication and effort orientation leaders contribute. Increasing the stipend for orientation leaders doesn't just benefit them; it also benefits new students. A higher stipend is likely to create greater enthusiasm and engagement among leaders, leading to improved interactions with students. This, in turn, enhances the overall experience for new students who are more likely to receive increased attention and support from their leaders. If the school genuinely prioritizes the well-being and smooth transition of new students into college life, it should consider raising the stipend. 

Orientation leaders deserve better pay, and the school needs to acknowledge and reward their efforts appropriately. I urge you to join us in pushing for higher wages for these dedicated individuals who undoubtedly deserve fair compensation.