Dear Bowdoin Labor Alliance,
I enjoyed reading your article in last week’s edition of the Bowdoin Orient.
While I enjoyed the article, I had a few questions that I hope that you can answer to clear up some of my confusion about your arguments. Firstly, why did your article not include anecdotes of people that were forced to perform unpaid labor? I ask this question because without these anecdotes it is hard for me to support your argument when you provide no evidence that backs it up. Is there a reason why you didn’t include anecdotal evidence in your article? Is the absence of evidence in your article due to a lack of evidence, or is it due to some other factor, like the fact that you are confined by a strict word limit?
Additionally, could you clarify the survey that you detail in your article? My question stems from the fact that you state that the survey population was small, but you fail to provide exact figures as to how many people actually responded to the survey. I think that by providing the exact number of people that took the survey, the larger Bowdoin community can come to a better understanding of the scope of the problem by seeing just how many people are affected by the problem of unpaid labor.
I also have a question about wages. What would be a fair wage to pay affinity group leaders, BOC leaders and other unpaid laborers? Would it be the minimum wage or would it be in proportion to the value generated by their work? If your definition of a fair wage conforms to the latter definition, how would you determine this value? And would Bowdoin be inclined to share part of its profits with Bowdoin students given that as a corporation its main goal is to maximize profit?
I also have a question about unpaid internships. Do you believe that unpaid internships are unfair because interns are working for free? I ask this question because in my opinion, unpaid internships are valuable experiences that allow us to build human capital in the form of new skills which can be used in the future when we are looking for jobs or applying for graduate school. By the same reasoning, would not leadership positions in affinity groups, the BOC and other similar organizations be similar opportunities to build human capital in the form of leadership skills that can be used in the future? And by that reasoning, how are unpaid positions on campus any different from unpaid internships?
I think there is also something to be said about intent. From my experience, the couple of people that I know who have become BOC leaders have done so willingly and were in no way forced to do so. From my thinking, if you willingly decide to do something, like become a BOC leader, and you do so knowing full well that you will not be compensated for your work, it is not really fair to then demand compensation. However, if people are forced to take these positions, then I think it is a different story, but from my experience I have heard of no instances of people being forced to become a leader.
Finally, I have a question about your stance towards the administration. Why are you demanding that the administration provide you with an answer? I ask this question because the administration does not seem interested in solving problems on campus, and thus, it seems pointless to look to them to provide an answer or to solve this problem. If you want the problem solved, I think that the only way to do so is through the use of collective action to pressure the administration to meet your demands.
Thank you for reading this letter, and I hope that you can provide me and the rest of campus with the answers to my questions.
Ian Morrison is a member of the Class of 2024.