Student workers at St. Olaf are a decidedly vulnerable population. The vast majority of us need these jobs to fulfill financial aid obligations and assist in paying our tuition. Conversely, our school is dependent on the student workers who answer phones, do office work and serve our meals. In failing to list the obligations that employers have for their student workers, St. Olaf is symbolically snubbing a large portion of its workers.
The primary purpose of the list of student worker obligations is to provide in writing what many students and employers already know: Punctuality is mandatory, as are appropriate attire and behavior. Obvious though these expectations may be, seeing them in writing provides accountability for students; having read through these expectations before agreeing to work at their place of employment, they can be easily confronted should they violate any of these expectations.
Similarly, a list of the expectations of employers would include quite a few obvious items, but having these available in writing for students and employers would raise the level of accountability. It would also serve as a gesture of respect for student workers: We as employees should have expectations of how we can be treated in our offices.
A universal list of obligations cannot be specific enough to encompass all offices on campus. Many student positions are in administrative office with daytime hours, but the Bon Appétit, Telecom and desk work positions in residence halls, the libraries and Tostrud have varying hours and shift-based schedules. A list of general expectations can serve to clarify: What are my office's policies about working over break? How should I handle shift-swapping if I am unable to work my Wednesday shift?
Unlike other staff members at St. Olaf, student workers' principal purpose at this institution is to learn. While many of us need to pay for our education through student work, these obligations should not intimidate us or impinge upon our ability to attend classes. Approaching employers when we think we are not being treated fairly would be difficult enough with a list of employer expectations, but without a list of what is expected of our employers, we cannot verify possible indiscretions in writing.
How frequently do employers at St. Olaf take advantage of their workers? "Rarely," would still be an overestimate, I imagine. Policies such as these are not put in place to serve the majority of students who are consistently treated fairly, but instead are intended to protect the minority who do have problems with their employers.
I do not intend for this to be some left-wing workers' rights manifesto, but I do think that the lack of a written "Expectations of Employers" is a failure to acknowledge that student workers have every right to expect a certain level of respect and security in their places of work.
Many offices have their own policies in writing already, and I know of few students who have ever had serious issues with their student work assignments. Ultimately, this list of expectations would be a gesture of respect to students; a certain level of behavior should not only be expected of workers, but their employers as well. Inclusion of such a list in the Student Worker's Handbook would universalize the expectations of employers on campus, just as the expectations of workers is universal.
Staff Writer Lauren Ciechanowski is a senior from Oak Park, Ill. She majors in political science and in sociology/anthropology.