OL Program Faces Challenges Over Compensation and Workload
Issue   |   Tue, 12/05/2017 - 19:21
Photo courtesy of Sarah Wishloff ’19
Former orientation leaders have raised concerns about the amount of work required of the position and lack of pay.

Applications to become an orientation leader (OL) for the next academic year opened on Nov. 27. Past OLs, however, have voiced concerns about the future of the program — the number of OLs were cut in half this past summer, increasing individuals’ workload, but the position remains an unpaid one.

According to the Amherst College website, “orientation leaders are expected to be representative of the campus community, knowledgeable of campus resources and supportive of first-years and their guests.”

Julian Brubaker ’20, who had been an orientation leader this year, said he applied because it is an important job on campus. Brubaker said he had been positively influenced by two OLs in his first year, which encouraged him to become one as a way to “pay it forward.”

Brubaker and 36 other OLs came to campus two weeks before classes started. One week was dedicated to training and the second week was first-year orientation. According to Brubaker, “for two weeks, it [being an OL] is your life.”

Becoming an OL included one week of 12-hour days, with training for most of the day and more activities after dinner. On the day that first-years arrived on campus, OLs spent the entire day helping new students move in. For the rest of the week, OLs were responsible for conducting several “squad meetings” with their designated group of first-years. In past years, two OLs were responsible for around 15 first-years per squad. This year, most squads had only one OL.

Brubaker said he had been nervous about having one squad all to himself, because he was worried he wouldn’t be able to handle all the students on his own.

Kayla Hall ’20 echoed this sentiment. “It definitely caused an issue for some people when the first-years actually came in and we had to lead these group discussions, and sometimes it got very difficult … so it would have been nice to have somebody with you,” she said.

Some OLs also had to do double duty as LEAP trip leaders, another unpaid position that required additional training during the week before orientation. After they came back from the LEAP trips on the Sunday before classes started, they had to go through another day and a half of orientation before classes started again.

“There was zero break in between,” said Olivia Zheng ’20, who was also an OL this year.

Brubaker said no one explicitly told the OLs that they were going to be paid, but the understanding among OLs was that the college cut the number of OLs in half so they could receive compensation.

“To me, it felt like they were intentionally not talking about pay,” he said.

The Student contacted Sophie Koff, the head of the orientation program, but Dean of New Students Rick Lopez responded on her behalf, writing in an email interview that the college plans on keeping the number of OLs the same as last year is looking into ways to “financially compensate orientation leaders for their contributions.”

“Orientation leaders are at the heart of what makes orientation a success,” Lopez said. “The entire orientation planning team places the highest importance on recruiting some of the most talented students on campus, providing them with strong leadership training and a rewarding experience and communicating to them how much the entire community values their contributions.”

According to Brubaker, OLs met with Koff following orientation, and she allegedly said that while she made efforts to secure pay for the OLs, there was inadequate funding.

“People were really frustrated and felt like for the amount of time time put in, that we should be paid,” said Brubaker.

It was easy for the orientation leaders to feel underappreciated, Hall said. “Becoming an OL, you do spend a lot of time training and doing a lot of activities, and especially during orientation week, you’re very very active in helping make the first-years feel welcome and integrated into the school community … and it’s a lot more work than it seems,” she added. “I also feel that [the work] doesn’t stop after orientation stops.”

Brubaker said not receiving pay made the OLs feel devalued by the college.

Though Lopez said the college wants to be able to pay OLs, “There are some issues to work through.”

“Ideally, I would like an increase in funding to cover it, but if not, then we would have to decide what programs to cut out of Orientation next year to free up funds,” he said. “It would be expensive, so it might require some deep cuts to programs for next year’s entering class.”

According to Lopez, the college is in the early stages of putting together next year’s budget. “Conversations of what this might look like are still in process,” he wrote.

Despite her frustrations, Hall said that she would still consider applying to be an orientation leader again. “It was an opportunity for me to become closer to first-years and people I don’t know and to step outside of my comfort zone and to meet other people,” she said.

Zheng, on the other hand, said that she would not consider reapplying unless it was a paid position. “It’s right before going into a new semester, and it was just so exhausting, and I felt like I wasn’t as prepared going into the semester because I was already so tired,” she said.

She said that she hopes the training will be structured differently in the future, “in a way that was not as exhausting and pertaining more specifically to the things were going to do during orientation.”

Similarly, Brubaker said that although he had a good experience, he will not be applying again unless it became a paid position.

The deadline for OL applications is 11:59 p.m. on Jan. 26, 2018.