Think twice before telling a student worker to “take a mental health break.” The simple truth is that we can’t. I, like many other students, have to figure out ways to support myself while also trying to graduate. Taking a break means losing income or falling behind in classes. Taking a break is a privilege I can’t afford.
During my freshman year of college, my dad was diagnosed with stage 4 lymphoma. Coming from a single-parent household, I feared losing my only parent, but I didn’t have time to think about that. It was now up to me to search for any job I could find to help pay for my already overpriced education. I struggled, but eventually found a job as a first-year program assistant, where I help first-year students navigate through their first term of college.
Luckily, by the end of the summer, my dad was in remission, but that didn’t mean we had regained financial security. Because of the aggressive treatment my dad had to endure, he no longer had the physical ability to work. He had to retire, collect his pension early and live on his Social Security checks. We had no time to rejoice his recovery, because all we could think about was the financial strain this would put on us. I got a second job as a lifeguard.
I started to realize that I would need to find an internship to put under my belt for my resume. I was praying that I would be able to find one that would actually pay me. And though I found a paid internship that I love,it’s important to note that not everyone is lucky enough to get paid.
A wave of relief washed over me because I had now secured three jobs, but I didn’t know the toll it would take on me mentally and physically.
My third year of college was one of the most mentally and physically draining years I had ever experienced. I had doubled my workload as an FYP assistant, I had taken as many shifts as possible at the pool and I was driving back and forth from Eugene to Salem for my internship almost every week all while taking 16 credits.
I never had a moment for myself. On my rare days off, I slept as much as I could, but still woke up early so I could focus on schoolwork. I made it through the year while working numerous jobs and getting the grades I wanted, but, to be honest, it did a number on my mental health. I was so busy that forgetting meals was common and sleeping six hours was a rare blessing. I looked exhausted every single day. Even then, I still needed to make sure I was clocking in those hours and studying, because taking care of myself just wasn’t a priority.
According to a study conducted by Georgetown University in 2015, from 70% to 80% of college students are also workers, and about 40% of undergraduates work over 30 hours a week.
This study also noted that a student working a full-time job earning minimum wage earns a little over $15,000 a year. If it isn’t already obvious, this is not enough to pay for both tuition and living expenses. In fact, the University of Oregon estimates tuition to be $13,857 this year.
If student workers' wages were increased to $15 an hour, maybe we’d finally be able to take some time off. Studies show that when workers are paid higher wages it increases their morale and productivity. Furthermore, economists have linked higher wages with better mental and physical health.
I’m writing this after being in classes and working two separate jobs all day. All I can say is I’m tired. And I know many other student workers feel exactly the same. I shouldn’t feel guilty for taking a day off. I shouldn’t be falling behind in classes because I need to pick up another shift just to afford groceries for the week.
There are multiple options on campus that provide students with groceries and meals, but a working person shouldn’t have to rely on this. We are working various jobs and can’t even afford to buy our own groceries. This obviously proves that the wages we make are not sustainable.
I came to college for an education, not to work three jobs, but I can’t afford one without the other. UO, your employees are the reason your facilities run; it’s time to take care of them. The board of trustees approved a $100,000 bonus to President Schill in December 2019. During that same time, I was working three jobs while preparing for four finals. Don’t tell me to take time off until the UO pays me a wage I rightfully deserve.