Cas Sweeney ’19 | Associate Editor
Smith College recently announced that they are lifting their restriction on first-year work-study positions. In the past, first-years on work-study were only allowed to work in Dining or Housekeeping. Starting next year, they will be allowed to apply for any job on campus.
This change was implemented after the Pathways Campus Climate Study found that there is a negative stigma against working in Dining Services and Housekeeping and students who hold those jobs.
When this stigma was found, the decision was reached to end the restriction on first-year jobs. Andrew Cox, Director of Dining Services, said that the department “support[s] the need to remove any stigma for First Years and Dining that came to light through conversations and the study.”
The fact that there is a stigma against Dining and Housekeeping has not had any official documentation until now. However, that does not mean that students have not been aware of the perception of those positions since the positions are mostly held by students who have work-study and are highly visible jobs.
Work-study students are comprise more low-income students than non-work-study students do. According to the Pathways survey, 38 per cent of low-income respondents reported experiencing “exclusionary, intimidating, offensive, and/or hostile conduct,” and 44 percent of those respondents “thought that the conduct was based on their income status.”
The policy change is not the only step that is on the table to reduce negative stigma. Smith’s Student Employment/Fund Coordinator, Valerie Schumacher, said, “It is unfortunate that there is any sense of stigma related to work in Dining or Housekeeping and perhaps this can be addressed in workshops that focus on equality and inclusion between peers.” No specific details of such workshops have been decided upon at this time.
Schumacher said that the old policy of prioritizing first-years was based on the way Dining had been set up in the past. “Over time, however, dining halls consolidated and students began to travel to various houses for meals and work as well as to tutoring positions off campus under the America Reads/America Counts program.”
Before the college was aware of the stigma, there was no reason to make changes to the policy, as working in Dining and Housekeeping “allowed [first-years] the freedom to settle in, learn the campus, focus on their classes and meeting friends while making a job search stress-free.”
Many first-years will likely continue work in Dining and Housekeeping, as many job positions are posted and filled during the prior semester. However, Dining and Housekeeping will now also be allowed to hire and keep on upperclassmen. Cox said “our hope is that with no net change in the number of jobs on campus, that the market will make its own correction,” and therefore there will still be the same amount of students working in Dining and Housekeeping overall.
When asked about the appeal of Dining and Housekeeping, Cox and Schumacher both expressed a belief that there are large benefits of working in those departments. Cox said, “Dining offers students many flexible options, between location, hours, shift lengths and we hope that students find this attractive. Not many employers can say: ‘you don’t even need to leave your house.’”
Schumacher said first-year students “will also be encouraged to continue to seek employment in Housekeeping and Dining Services, the largest employer with the greatest number of shifts at a variety of times.”
Overall, the reality of work-study employment will be very similar, but the hope is that the attitude surrounding those two departments will begin to change now that there are not required positions.