O-Week personnel should be exempt from paying housing fees while volunteering
Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 23, 2012 19:08
Like many other Rice University students, my own Orientation Week is one of my favorite memories from my three years at Rice. This is due largely in part to my three phenomenal advisors. I myself have been fortunate enough to be an O-Week advisor for the past three years: once at Wiess College and twice at Hanszen College. While Wiess completely covers housing expenses for its fellows and affiliates, I had to pay $80 each time I advised at Hanszen. For me and many other O-Week personnel, it was money well spent. I love everything about O-Week and credit it with catalyzing much of my own personal growth and success at Rice. Nevertheless, it is frustrating to have to pay to volunteer two weeks of my summer to make O-Week happen.
For many students, participating in advisor training and O-Week means lost potential income for them. Having to pay a housing fee on top of lost income from summer jobs adds insult to injury. If students are willing to give up two weeks of their summer to invest in new students, it should at least be free.
The university should not pay advisors (although there is a separate argument to be made about paying coordinators), but it should at least make the entire experience cost-neutral. Additionally, for students with internships and summer commitments away from home, the two weeks spent doing O-Week is time that could be spent with friends and family. My family, while sad to see me leave two weeks early, was incredulous that I was paying to volunteer two weeks of my summer, when many other universities pay their orientation week staff members.
Thankfully, all colleges subsidize a part of the housing fee for their O-Week staff, but by doing so they are taking money away from new students. Taking money from new students to house O-Week personnel seems counterintuitive. At Hanszen, the housing subsidy paid by the coordinators is one-fifth of the entire O-Week budget. That’s nearly $2,000 that new students never get to see. At Wiess, paying for O-Week housing constitutes half of the budget.
This year the housing costs increased, which put even more strain on coordinating teams to try to balance their O-Week budgets without charging their advisors and affiliates too much. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on programming to make O-Week even greater? Why does it fall upon coordinating teams to front the housing cost imposed by Housing and Dining to house advisors and affiliates?
In addition to the official housing fee paid by O-Week staff, many advisors and affiliates incur other costs throughout the week. Gas is not cheap, and between events such as scavenger hunts, late-night food, and off-campus trips like Hanszen’s Galveston trip, gas costs definitely add up.
Furthermore, I know almost every advising team at Hanszen (and teams at other colleges as well) paid out of pocket once their allotment per new student was used up. In an effort to make O-Week cost-neutral for new students, many O-Week personnel end up spending significantly more than just the initial housing fee.
During advisor training we are taught that new students come from a diverse array of backgrounds and that advisors are not to make assumptions about our new students. One such assumption is that all new students come to Rice from a wealthy background. Though many Rice students come from relative affluence, many others do not, and the housing fee required for O-Week participation is prohibitive for many current Rice students.
To be clear, this is not an appeal for future coordinators to fully subsidize O-Week housing costs. To do so would mean over half of many college O-Week budgets would be spent on this subsidy. It is, however, an appeal to the university to re-evaluate why it charges O-Week personnel to volunteer part of their summers, potentially lose income and pay a housing fee to participate in O-Week. It would be a shame if even a single potential advisor or affiliate were unable to participate in O-Week due to ever-increasing housing costs.
Ultimately, O-Week is all about the new students. Advisors are told this numerous times during advisor training by the coordinators, First Year Programs staff and by faculty such as Dean of Undergraduates John Hutchinson. By making advisors and affiliates pay to participate in O-Week, the university is not holding true to this ideal.
Advisors are graciously thanked by new students, O-Week staff and the university for all their work, but the biggest thank you from Rice would come in the form of free housing during O-Week and advisor training. If O-Week is indeed all about the new students, then the university needs to shoulder the burden of covering housing fees and make sure that new students have the best possible experience.
Zack Panos is a Hanszen College senior.