Three of five students on administrative search committee unpaid

The Smith Campus Center situated at Pomona College. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

Five students were selected for a search committee to find a new first-generation coordinator for Pomona College. But, only two of them were paid.

Pomona hired its first first-generation coordinator, Maria Melendrez PZ ’16, in July 2016. The position was open after Melendrez stepped down in the summer of 2018, according to a collective letter sent to Pomona administration.

Dean Ric Townes organized a search committee to find her replacement, Pomona Dean of Students Avis Hinkson wrote in an email to TSL.

The first-generation coordinator is responsible for coordinating events to support first-generation and low-income students as they navigate their college experience.

The Associated Students of Pomona College was told to hire two students for the committee, according to executive vice president Johny Ek Aban PO ’19. The students were selected through an application process, and each of the students was given $500 by ASPC.

Townes then asked the First-Gen Low Income (FLI) and Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success organizations to select three more members for the committee. One of the students was an IDEAS head mentor paid by the Dean of Students Office for her job but unpaid for her work on the committee.

The other two students on the selection committee were unpaid.

This is not the first time ASPC has paid students for serving on search committees. The students on the presidential search committee that selected President G. Gabrielle Starr last year were also given financial compensation by ASPC.

“We believe [in] paying students for work that they do in addition to [them] doing it because of love for the community and because of passion for whatever position,” Ek Aban said. “It’s time that’s going away from studying; it’s time that’s going away from a work-study job or off-campus job that should be compensated.”

Serving on a search committee is a “volunteer activity” and there are no plans in place to pay students for committee work in the future, Hinkson wrote. However, they are working to make the search process more accessible overall.

“With acknowledgement of the time commitment required to participate on a search committee and to make the opportunity more accessible, we are working to adjust the process with enhanced open presentations to students, including a meal to help fit student participants’ schedules, in order to engage more student input without an onerous time commitment,” Hinkson wrote.

Ivette Fernandez PO ’19 was picked to represent the FLI community on the committee and was one of the unpaid students.

“I took time that I could’ve been doing work-study, or doing stuff for my other job on campus as an RA,” Fernandez said. “I took time out of that position because it’s very important to me that this coordinator would be someone who actually … represented FLI’s interests.”

The situation was handled “indelicately,” she said. “It’s not the worst thing in the world … but it’s like a tiny step shown by new leadership that makes me have less faith in them.”

Diana Rodriguez PO ’19, a member of both IDEAS and FLI, drafted the collective letter to the administration after conversations with Dean Hinkson were unsuccessful. The letter was posted in the Pomona Class of 2019 Facebook group, and ASPC sent out an email Oct. 16 to the Pomona student body to gather signatures for the letter.

The letter was sent Nov. 8 to the Pomona dean of students, president, and alumni board, and was signed by the collective ASPC Senate, as well as 100 students and alumni.

“Every student should have the opportunity to be part of an administrative search committee position, but the reality is that not all of us have this privilege,” the letter wrote. “Not all students are able to volunteer time to these positions because they have multiple jobs in addition to courses.”

Rodriguez emphasized the importance of the issue of paying students for administrative search positions beyond the current situation.

“Right now it’s impacting FLI and IDEAS, but it could be any other program,” she said.

Karla Ortiz PO ’20, an FLI mentor, signed the letter because of the impact the first-gen coordinator position has had on her. The position was put in place her first year at Pomona.

“[The position has been] very integral to my well-being and [my] being able to be on campus and have these needs addressed,” she said.

Ortiz said she believes all administrative search committee positions should be paid to recognize the labor that students put in.

“Speaking from my own experience, a lot of the money that I make goes back to my family,” she said.

ASPC was initially working with the two paid students on the search committee to discuss potentially cutting their compensation in order to “compensate equitably” between the IDEAS and FLI students and the students selected through ASPC.

However, they voted Nov. 1 to allocate an additional $1,000 to pay the unpaid students if they were unsuccessful in securing DOS funding for the students’ compensation.

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