College approaches student employment problematically

In a September 29 article in the Phoenix titled “Students Struggle to Secure On-Campus Employment,” Isabel Cristo discussed how two positions in the college post office received over 50 responses for the positions in under an hour. Even without access to a college-wide data set about the statistics of student employment on campus, this incident indicates that the level of demand for an on-campus job is high to the point of being unacceptable. The structural failures in the process of finding student employment on campus may be partly to blame for this job shortage, and the Phoenix believes that college staff, in partnership with the Student Employment Office, are obligated to act to change the student employment environment as soon as possible. Until the college acts to change these practices, it is failing to adequately serve the needs of the entire student body, and particularly failing the needs of low-income students.

The Phoenix has identified several key areas where student employment policies are particularly inadequate and deserve urgent attention. One of these is the simple fact that learning about student employment opportunities is both decentralized and incomplete. If a student did not check their email within the hour that the offer for a job in the college post office was sent out, they missed the opportunity to apply. There was no formalized application process and no application deadline. Similarly, there are many other jobs on campus that seem to become available only through “word-of-mouth” interactions, such as becoming a Science Associate in the Department of Biology, or managing and scorekeeping in the Department of Athletics. While there is a job fair for first-year students during orientation week, there is no equivalent once the academic year begins for non-first-years or alternative if first-year students miss the first job fair. Students’ financial situations might change over the course of their time at Swarthmore, and not providing the entire student body with sufficient knowledge of opportunities to pursue on-campus employment is unacceptable. Furthermore, the number of student employment opportunities that are represented at the job fair is far less than the actual number of opportunities available to first-year students. College staff should increase the number of student employment opportunities represented at the first-year job fair, and additionally provide a similar job fair for non-first-years.

Even at the first-year job fair, students must apply to each on-campus job individually, placing an additional burden on students seeking employment. Especially considering that the demand for each job is so high and a student may then have to apply to several to secure employment, it is ridiculous that the college has not introduced a centralized application system for student employment. While the Reserved Students Digest offers a place for new job offers for the entire student body, attempting to justify a daily email to the student body as the only place for employment opportunities is irresponsible. We as a student body need and deserve a centralized portal for job postings and a streamlined, standardized application to submit.

Implementing a system like this would not necessarily be difficult; other colleges and universities had these systems in place. Yale University’s student employment has a live job search portal that details the exact number of open jobs and open positions. Bowdoin College has a similar search portal. With such models among our peer institutions, why is the most comprehensive listing of student employment at Swarthmore an outdated and un-editable PDF on the Student Employment Office’s website? As Swarthmore students, we deserve better access to employment opportunities.

Another major problem with student employment is the nature of the work often offered to students. In many cases, the jobs are clearly marketed as “Student jobs,” implying that they are somehow different from the jobs offered to other college staff members, and in some cases do not offer students the opportunity to gain real-world job experience. In the Student Development Office, student callers learn about non-profit development work. But why are no students able to apprentice under the bartender at the Broad Table Tavern, or shadow the hospitality staff at the Inn at Swarthmore? And why doesn’t the college have conversations with business in the village of Swarthmore to increase the number of student employees there? The Phoenix understands that different jobs on campus are funded by different sources of income or different types of grants, but the source of a college employee’s paycheck should not dictate the nature of the work students can do. Furthermore, the Phoenix recognizes that college employees are bound by required reporter and Clery Act guidelines, and it may be difficult to train more student employees in this capacity. However, this administrative hurdle would increase the number of reporters on campus and ideally make the college a safer place. Therefore, it is unreasonable for college staff to shy away from offering students different types of employment due to the fact that training them in the same way that a full-time staff member would take too much time or paperwork. This is particularly salient when considering the fact that many of the students at the college volunteer their time in extracurriculars or unpaid job opportunities that cumulatively would equal or exceed a forty hour work week.

The Phoenix recognizes that the college and student groups on campus are engaging in valuable conversations about the needs of low income students. We commend the Dean’s Office, the Swarthmore Organization for Low Income Students, and the Questbridge Scholars group for spearheading many of those conversations. But in addition to engaging in those conversations, the college should be paying attention to the serious need for increased and more efficiently listed on-campus employment opportunities. The Phoenix hopes the college creates a centralized job listing and application center and encourages various employers to engage more actively with potential student employees.

Swarthmore students were admitted because of their exceptional ability as students. Many go on to successful and lucrative careers in a number of sectors. Admissions staff discuss these promising job prospects in information sessions on a daily basis. Why is it, then, that the college approaches student employment during their four years at the college in such a drastically different and problematic way? We at the Phoenix await to hear the answer.

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