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Work-study system unfair to students

By Jennifer Gray

Section: Opinions

October 16, 2015

The Brandeis information page regarding work study makes it abundantly clear that an on-campus job is not guaranteed. These statements are phrased to present obtaining a job as something that a student need only show initiative and effort for. It paints students into two categories: those who deserve a job by merit and those who do not. The underlying, unspoken idea, however, is that work studies are not hand-outs, so “lazy” students will not receive them.

This distinction feeds into the American dream ideal that the truly hard-working people reach their goals with the right amount of determination and effort. All of this ignores that the system is plainly biased in favor of those who already have had access to opportunities. Obtaining a job, even at a supposedly fair and balanced place like a college campus, is not a matter of not trying hard enough, even if all the materials say otherwise.

Most jobs and work studies posted online on Brandeis’ careers site say they have a preference for some previous experience, as almost all jobs do. However, in a college campus setting, wouldn’t it be more logical for jobs to exist to provide students with first-time experience? Students with little to no work experience fall into the loop of no work experience leading to no jobs, which leads to no work experience.

Determination is not an answer. As someone who has applied to now thirteen jobs since the beginning of the year—all of which had skill requirements roughly on par with that of the average first-year’s skill set—and obtained nothing more than one interview, I can say it takes a bit more than a good attitude to actually obtain a job.

The problem I have with this system is not necessarily the difficulty in achieving a work study even after it has already been factored into financial plans. The problem I have is that the university places this fault on the students for “not trying hard enough” in a system where they are naturally disadvantaged. This is not about asking Brandeis to change its policy and actually ensure job placements.

What I ask is for it to be aware that the students are not somehow at fault for failing to succeed at something rigged against them. Providing more concrete ways for students to at least get on the path to an on-campus job would be ideal, but merely rewording the language to remove the idea of “laziness” in those who fail would be an adequate first step.

One issue is the underlying blame. The second is the presentation of the work study as an opportunity that when granted, would be foolish not to take advantage of. At the same time as subtly deriding the “lazy” student, stress is placed on the ease of application and the wonder of the chance to actually gain work experience. All of this ignores that the application is the only thing the student has any actual control due to the previously mentioned cycle of lack of work experience acting against them. Also, as it needs to be mentioned, the continuation of such a cycle is particularly absurd in an environment designed to help people begin to find jobs.

Some are able to succeed in this system; clearly someone must gain the job for which so many are denied. But the competition between students, the discrepancy in what skills a student is likely to have and what is required and the subtle blame placed on those who fail to earn their generous reward of a job cannot be ignored due to the few who do achieve against the odds.

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