Last week, the Bowdoin Labor Alliance (BLA) published an op-ed in tandem with the rollout of their most recent campaign—securing better pay for campus workers who they deem to be uncompensated or undercompensated.
The situation is, of course, complicated. The lines between labor, volunteering and hobby overlap, and it’s almost impossible to deem positions in clubs as engaging in one action but not another. What payment (or a lack thereof) does do, though, is dictate who can or cannot engage in a particular club or group. The Orient is no stranger to this predicament.
To be clear, the College does not pay members of the Orient, and we never intend to make that request. This is not because we believe our work isn’t meaningful or serious labor, but rather the Orient’s values would be compromised in such a situation.
Some other student newspapers are paid by their institutions, but they face a number of barriers while producing their papers. Their staffs are smaller, they are only able to publish contingent on receiving their paychecks and their membership is highly selective.
While the Orient recognizes the value of the BLA’s efforts to provide payment for activities like journalism, we cannot support institutionalized payment for our staff. As an independent publication, the Orient can critique and comment on pressing campus issues that otherwise could be censored if tied to the College. Articles scrutinizing the College for its inaction against former trustee Jes Staley ’79 P’11, for example, or opinion pieces demanding attention from the College on areas of institutional weaknesses might not be publishable under a staff financed by Bowdoin. This is a power dynamic we are uninterested in inviting.
Payment from the College would also restrict the size of the staff and the scope of our paper. Many members of the Orient staff work more than 20 hours a week, which exceeds the number of hours a full-time student can work on campus. This would likely inhibit the operation of the paper and our ability to publish weekly while working within the time constraints of a paid job at Bowdoin. Further, the size of our staff would likely shrink, as supporting over 50 members on a payroll would not be financially sustainable.
We are one of the largest clubs on campus, and it’s important to us that anyone who wants to join, can, regardless of prior experience. Employing only a select number of students for paid positions would advantage those who already have experience with journalism or writing—usually students who already have access to privileged opportunities. Further, we leverage ad revenue to compensate our editors by awarding prizes at the end of the academic year. While this most certainly balances out to an hourly wage far below the federal minimum, it’s our effort to thank the members of our staff who work tirelessly to produce the paper each week.
As it stands, though, the fact that we are unpaid affects the staff who are able to contribute to the Orient. Our staff writers, editors, artists and social media team will tell you firsthand that their contributions take meaningful time out of their academic and social lives to maintain the Orient’s weekly coverage of events and news on campus. Some who work jobs on campus as part of the work-study stipulation of their financial aid packages may have more difficulty finding time in their schedules to join the paper. Because of this disparity in free time, our membership often finds itself less diverse in terms of economic background.
The disparities in paid labor that BLA is highlighting shape who is able to work numerous hours each week for the Orient without pay. Not only does the ability to do unpaid labor shape the socio-economic makeup of the Orient staff, it also affects our culture as a club and the content we produce, as we do not accurately reflect the economic status of the student body as a whole. Unfortunately, we are not able to maintain the journalistic integrity we currently strive for while financially compensating our staff members via the College. While this bind influences what the Orient can be, this is not the case for every leadership position on campus that is un- or undercompensated. We commend the opening of this conversation on campus.
This editorial represents the majority opinion of the Editorial Board, which is composed of Sophie Burchell, Michael Gordon, Kaya Patel, Lily Randall, Halina Bennet and Seamus Frey.