Last January, for the first time, the Orientation Leader (OL) position at Brandeis was a paid one. Students who were selected to work as mid-year OLs for the class of 2024 received $500 for showing back up to campus a week or so before classes and spending a couple days training together, followed by a few with the incoming students doing hybrid in-person and virtual events.
This decision was made apparently to incentivize students to become OLs despite the increased risk of doing the job in the midst of a pandemic. The Department of Orientation also managed to secure additional funding from the administration to pay the fall semester OLs this past summer too, although it was only $250—half of the original amount. As a member of the Orientation Core Committee this past summer, I saw firsthand why it is so important to continue to make the Orientation Leader position a paid one. Paying OLs would positively affect large portions of campus life.
Right now, working for orientation is fundamentally inaccessible for students who do not have the required financial means. Paying students for their work would allow students who previously couldn’t have the opportunity to give back to the school. Right now, Orientation Leaders do not fully represent the diversity of the campus. As the first point of contact for many new students, orientation should strive to be a place for students of every background. By not paying OLs, the position is limited to those who can afford to travel early on their own dime, and can afford to take weeks off from whatever other job they have to work beyond full time for the school.
Additionally, Orientation Leaders perform a service for the university. Older students show new ones how to navigate the different resources on campus, from where to get food to where they should go to report a serious problem. Without this role, the job of teaching all these new students about life on campus would fall to the two paid university employees who make up the Department of Orientation. Regardless of how you feel your orientation experience was, do you think it would be better if there were two massive groups of 450 students who sat in Levin Ballroom and listened to people talk at them for hours at a time? That is the alternative if no students were to be OLs. Community Advisors on campus also do important work for the university, and although they are also likely not paid enough, they still are compensated via their housing. OLs do important work too, and that work being shorter term is not a good enough reason to not properly compensate students for their work.
Not only do students deserve to be paid fairly for their work, but making the OL position a consistently and equitably paid one would allow orientation to become even more than it already is. Because it is mostly a volunteer position, the work is pretty much over by the time classes start, but we all know that right at the beginning of the semester is one of the most vulnerable times as a first-year student. Paying OLs would allow the support networks for our first-year students to be bigger and more helpful than they have ever been.
Not every student has a great orientation experience, and those students might be skeptical about why paying OLs would have any positive impact on the campus. In response, I would hope that paying OLs might incentivize some of those students to bring their problems, suggestions and new ideas to orientation, to make it a better experience for all first-year students. Students are the university’s best resource, and investing in a handful of them to better integrate a quarter of the undergraduate population into life at Brandeis would only positively impact us all.