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An open letter to Gaylord College: Recruitment work must be paid work

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Gaylord Hall

A photo of Gaylord Hall on Mar. 2.

To Gaylord College leadership and the OU community at-large, 

My name is Caroline Sparks, and I was elected Chair of the Gaylord Ambassadors in spring 2021. I write this letter to explain my recent resignation and publicly demand that ambassadors be compensated. I am not the first to spark this conversation, but it’s my hope I will be the last. 

Many recruitment-centered student positions across campus are paid. OU Admissions and Recruitment tour guides, including those for the Joe C. and Carole Kerr McClendon Honors College, are paid hourly. Gaylord Ambassadors and other college-specific ambassadors, such as those in the Michael F. Price College of Business, remain unpaid because our status as an organization hinders us from being deemed what we operate as: a high-functioning, student-led recruitment program. 

Brought to life nearly as long ago as Gaylord College itself, our organization does recruitment and internal work; we give tours to prospective students, plan events for current students and publicize every corner of the college. We share our personal stories in hopes of selling the experience, which rakes in thousands of dollars with each added enrollment. 

Before my resignation, I spent 10 to 20 hours per week helping my college. This semester alone, I began writing a new recruitment guide, planned major recruitment events, coordinated all tours, led meetings and helped diversify recruitment practices, all while working multiple jobs as full-time student. I believe every ambassador should receive a stipend each semester, with an increase in payment to committee directors, vice-chair and chair. 

As the world continues to endure a deadly pandemic, the United States is experiencing a massive shift in its workforce. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 4.3 million Americans quit their job in August 2021. People are overwhelmed and fatigued. It’s difficult to perform any task in the wake of trauma, but it’s even more difficult to perform tasks unpaid, especially if you are a student living below the federal poverty level

In mid-October, I sent an email to our organization’s advisers and college leadership describing my feelings on the lack of compensation and requesting a time to meet. One adviser responded. I was told we are compensated for our time in other ways, such as networking and leadership-building opportunities. When I sent my resignation email on Nov. 10, I restated my concerns, and we have not met to discuss.

Students like myself (low-income backgrounds, single-parent households, first-generation status) do not have the privilege of accepting experience or “prestige” as payment. I cherish the people around me, and I also need to make rent. These two things can be true at once. Being a college student has exemplified that I benefit less from self-care tips on avoiding burnout and benefit much more from security, mutual accountability and truthfulness. 

The issue of unpaid work is not limited to my college — these are echoed sentiments that tie deeply into the unsustainable and competitive nature of student leadership culture. This institution’s livelihood rests on the abundance of students who do the work for free. We even compete annually for the institution’s awards, seeking confirmation that our work has paid off simply by being acknowledged. As many students know, it’s difficult to feel fulfilled when you feel hungry. 

Students, please remember that you, too, are a deserving part of the loving community we all seek to craft. The greatest reward, the most meaningful, sincere, heartfelt recognition of this work, would be financial compensation to all student recruiters at this university. During my tour of Gaylord College in the spring of 2018, I was enthralled by its mission — one rooted in transparency, creativity and innovation. I have made lasting friendships and connections here. It is no doubt a space of brilliant minds, a shared community of storytellers dedicated to asking questions. 

To Gaylord College leadership, I believe in your ability to maintain an environment in which questions are welcome. More than that, I believe in your ability to listen to these questions, respond to them and deliver what students deserve. On the Gaylord College website’s home page, it says “What Gaylord College students do is much bigger than a job title. Our students are more than just students.” If you believe this, I highly recommend paying us accordingly. 

Author and activist Bell Hooks wrote “the heart of justice is truth telling, seeing ourselves and the world the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.” Before we begin working for what we want, I must show you the way it is. I can no longer serve in this role, as I firmly believe it should be a paid position. Equitable compensation for Gaylord Ambassadors and all college recruitment work is an urgent necessity. 

Respectfully, Caroline Sparks, sociology and public relations senior

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