Last Monday, the Association of Amherst Students (AAS) voted to institute a $15 hourly wage for all AAS members, a change that will go into effect after the new election cycle. The AAS outlined three reasons for their decision: to provide compensation for student labor, to improve engagement with the AAS, and to increase accessibility for those who typically are unable to participate in organizations like the AAS.
Though the new bylaw caps pay at six hours per week for officials and two hours per week for at-large committee members, senators have expressed hope that it will compensate AAS members for the majority of their labor, which has previously been unpaid. The bylaw was also designed to encourage more students to run for office — hopefully ending AAS’ notoriously uncompetitive elections — and open the possibility of holding student government positions for those who could not otherwise afford to dedicate the many hours AAS requires without pay. Improving engagement and accessibility would, in turn, make the institution more representative of the student body.
The Editorial Board commends AAS’ decision, which we believe is a necessary first step to ensure that student groups receive compensation for the often huge amount of unpaid labor they do. The AAS has opened a pathway that other student organizations must begin to investigate. Student labor has monetary value, and financial need — the most common barrier to engagement with extracurricular activities — can now clearly be overcome.
Some student groups, like ACEMS, provide such vital services with such a high level of commitment that it is obvious that they should be compensated. There exists no clear-cut rule, however, for justifying compensation for any one particular group’s members, and it can be difficult to judge what groups, if any, really should be paid for the work that they do.
And yet, it is clear that many extracurriculars require an enormous amount of energy and effort from students. For example, affinity groups collectively expend massive amounts of time and energy on diversity work and play a crucial role in campus community building, especially by helping support low-income and BIPOC first-years on campus. Nonetheless, the fact that these activities come with no compensation makes them inherently exclusionary to those on campus who cannot afford to spend time on unpaid and uncredited labor. This is exactly the kind of accessibility issue that the AAS hopes to alleviate with its new bylaw — and if it works for the AAS, it should be a practice that is open to any club which thinks that it would seriously benefit from it.
We do want to acknowledge that extracurricular activities are extracurricular for a reason — many clubs on this campus are specifically meant to provide a more casual space for students to explore their interests and have fun outside of academics, and they should not function as jobs for students.
At the same time, it’s important to look around our campus, look at all the resources we have available, and ask: who are the students doing the labor that helps shape the Amherst community, what sacrifices are they making to do that labor, and how can we, the community, compensate or mitigate their sacrifices? Even beyond that, as the AAS so astutely noted in their email, paying students would encourage them to get more involved in on-campus groups and experiences.
Other forms of compensation already exist for some student activities, such as offering course credit for orchestra or jazz combos, but the AAS could formalize an approach centered on financial compensation, something which would dramatically increase accessibility without significantly changing the way Registered Student Organizations currently function. The AAS has taken a commendable step toward creating a more accessible organization. In doing so, they have created a precedent for other extracurricular groups to compensate members for their commitment. Now, we are calling on them to put that precedent to use with the rest of the student body.
Unsigned editorials represent the views of the majority of the Editorial Board — (assenting: 9; dissenting: 0; abstaining: 0).