This semester has not been easy. All of us are weighed down by both our worries for loved ones’ health and a heavier workload, and students will soon have to process the results of an election with momentous implications for this country’s future. No one at Kenyon could control the pandemic or the ways in which we are all forced to adapt. We recognize the difficulty of the decisions that Kenyon has had to make. But we cannot ignore the fact that the College has failed to prioritize the mental health and happiness of its students, especially its student workers. This must change: certainly now, and definitely by next semester. We demand that Kenyon respect and address the stress that student employees are under.
As students, we are anxious and overwhelmed. Student workers feel this stress and anxiety even more, as they bear more responsibility than the average student, and, this semester, are receiving less support than ever. Many students support themselves and their families with their pay, and even if students are able to find employment, the shortened semester means they will earn less than usual.
Many others want to work, but are faced with decreased job offerings, depriving them of necessary resources and limiting their ability to gain professional experience. In the face of COVID-19, there are more potential opportunities for student work than ever before: helping online operations, or maintaining COVID safety on campus. Yet, the College has under-hired in some cases, laying off the Horn Gallery sound technicians without notice, and put immense pressure on its remaining student workers, such as the CAs, to pick up the slack.
While Kenyon has never guaranteed employment or hiring preference to students with work-study, this year students’ prospects are far worse. First-year students on work-study have expressed to K-SWOC particular difficulty with finding on-campus jobs. Similarly, off-campus international students have been barred from employment since the pandemic and thus cut off from much-needed resources and experience. Even if students are able to find employment, the shortened semester means they will take home less pay than usual.
All these stressors are compounded by the 2020 election. So far, the College has not put forward any substantive plan to provide relief or mental health care to its students, with little consideration for its student workers. We will likely be forced to work under unprecedented circumstances without the paid personal leave granted to other staff. Kenyon students should not have to choose between their civic duty and their financial obligations: We demand student workers be given the paid day off on Election Day and guaranteed personal time off.
These issues are urgent, and they deserve to be addressed. The College needs to fix the problems it has created by adequately staffing all positions, providing fair payment, rehiring students where necessary and giving workers flexibility in scheduling their hours. Problems will continue to arise until the College empowers students and student workers to find solutions for themselves.
As an organizing committee for student workers, we will continue to pressure the administration as it tries to run the College as a business at the expense of our learning and working environment. We know what we want — a union of student workers — and we will continue to fight for it.
K-SWOC Steering Committee