A first-year’s perspective: An argument for paying JAs for their emotional labor

This weekend, I went through social overhaul. I felt lost, annoyed and mostly frustrated. In a time when I had very few people, my Junior Advisors (JAs), Julia Vargas ’19 and Matt Lennon ’19, were the ones to talk to me and give me advice. I am so grateful for the way they spoke to me in my vulnerability. By the end of the conversation, I was better equipped to move forward. It took their listening, their advice and their empathy with my frustration to really help me keep moving. This is not an isolated action, either. My JAs have spent the past year giving me and my entrymates advice, making sure we’re safe and acting as our mentors. If you asked anyone in my entry, they would all probably say the same thing: Julia and Matt have consistently been people on our team. It is a shame, then, that these people are not compensated adequately for their labor. Here’s why.

Why should JAs be compensated? Shouldn’t it be a voluntary thing? First off, I personally would never choose to be a JA. It comes with so much emotional labor, so much extra work, and it requires the ability to sacrifice a whole lot of time. It also means living away from the friends you’ve made in the last two years. This is a job, plain and simple, that we have not valued as an institution.

Second, there are so many people who would be great JAs but simply can’t do it because of the time it takes away from their ability to work; this difference means that the JA pool has historically benefitted those who don’t have to care about money as a tangible concept. It is all fine to say, “It shouldn’t all be about the money,” but this ignores the fact that a lot of people on this campus have to think about the money. When you send remittances home, when you are paying out-of-pocket your parent contribution or when you simply must save because you depend on your own money for flights and for living (which, given our currently allotted work-study, is unsustainable, but that’s a topic for another op-ed), you lose out on the ability to guide students via the entry system.

Not only do you fail to cater to students from across the country – particularly ones from marginalized backgrounds – but you also lose the opportunity to have a JA who understands their experiences.

Lastly – and maybe this is difficult to think about – but it is okay to want money. It is okay for low-income students who would like to be mentors to also be compensated for that labor. It is okay to want more when the system doesn’t work for you. It is okay. 

What is not okay are the various ways that, even at the College, we have double-standards as to who is able to pursue money. As my entrymate Mirna Rodriguez ’21 put it, “All the economics majors who go into finance are celebrated for pursuing money. When it comes to JAs, we criticize them for wanting to be compensated.”

Dominic Madera ’21 is from Houston, Texas. He intends to major in comparative literature and political science. 

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