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Oberlin's Overwhelming Financial Incompetence

by Reggie Goudeau

Staff Writer

art by Martina Taylor

[originally published May 20, 2022]


I’m more than sick of writing about pay issues I’ve experienced and gradually losing faith in things changing for low-income, first-gen students at Oberlin. I used to enjoy most of my jobs and contributed to on-campus events and resources, even when things went wrong. Sadly, this institution’s repeated pattern of making my obligations outside of class harder by not paying me on time has sucked the life out of me. Many activities, positions, and organizations I used to participate in and manage now either drain me, or take too much time out of my limited schedule. While I’ve had many trying semesters here at Oberlin, these past two have to be the most difficult. I’ve had five jobs during this semester, and many of them have not been the most prompt with paying me.

The worst part about this is that these past two semesters are far from the first time this school has made making a living impossible. I often go between the Offices of Financial Aid and Student Accounts for an hour or so once every semester. They rarely help me much besides putting me on an unhelpful payment plan. Once, they managed to find an extra scholarship or grant, which decreased my estimated contribution by a fair amount. Besides that one notable positive moment, I don’t have much good to say about these supposed resources. I also have to remind each party that I’m a Questbridge student every year, which means that I should have no student loans after college if I work off my debt at whatever college I matched to (in this case, Oberlin). There are only four Questbridge students at Oberlin in my class year, and some aren’t even finishing their academic careers here. While many problematic factors at Oberlin harm low-income, first-gen students like me, the lack of care with our financial situations here is one of the most demoralizing.

Only having these issues would be bad enough, but my experiences with many jobs here have somehow been worse. My job problems began during my last semester working for America Counts. Despite what would later occur, I still enjoyed the majority of my time with the program. When I worked at Langston Middle School, I almost always looked forward to walking down there and helping my class. They even liked my Soundcloud music, man. Anyways, during this time, I was in school during the summer semester and assisting the program with assembling packets to distribute to locations like the Oberlin Public Library. This job was my only Bonner service site, and since this group was relatively new, we did not have many things to do initially.

For context, I’m able to work a select few jobs that pay me both per hour through the Community Based Work Study Program (CBWSP) and allow me to receive hours as a Bonner scholar. These hours then go towards Bonner stipends worth $250 each, and Bonners can earn up to three of these a semester. I went on to have a meeting with Susan Pavlus, my boss at America Counts concerning my lack of hours. I did this weeks before the deadline to get my last stipend. While the available hours to work gradually improved, I was still short by about 15 hours of receiving my final Bonner stipend in the last month of school that semester. In these final weeks, one of my last tasks for work was to attend a two-hour final reflection with the other tutors on zoom. Unfortunately, I had class during the two times this was held, and Susan never responded to my emails asking when I could make them up. While those two hours may not have gotten me all the way to that stipend, I still would have appreciated the opportunity to earn them.

During the spring semester of 2021, I began working at Oberlin Community Services (OCS), and worked from October until December of that year. Once again, I did not mind the work here and got along with the staff. Still, a miscommunication with the site’s coordinator Rosa Gadsden went on to make my time working here that semester unnecessarily stressful. I asked to get credit for working CBWSP and Bonner hours. Sadly, my supervisor only signed me up to be a Bonner, and I found this out two weeks into the semester after randomly asking when I’d be paid. It was too late to find a new Bonner service site that could provide equivalent hours, so I had no choice but to tough this out. I worked a total of 41.5 hours during that time, and I would have received $415 in my actual bank account had this mistake not occurred. In all fairness, Brandi McVety had a meeting with me concerning this issue, and helped me take steps to withdraw a $400 loan that Bonner will pay back if I complete all of the program’s requirements until my senior year (they’ll pay back up to $2000). Said loan helped me manage tuition during that semester, and I might not have gotten all of it paid off without the assistance. She also helped me get another extra service site at INTO the Hope Collection that paid me for CBWSP and Bonner hours. Still, this entire situation was one of many instances where someone else’s mistake placed a great inconvenience upon me for no reason. I’m getting paid for my hours there as of this semester, and enjoying my time there far more as a result.

During this semester on March 24th, I checked my direct deposit notification and calculated my hours to see that my job forgot to pay me for my time as a Speaking Associate. I was missing out on $50-60 because of this mistake. My boss Laurie McMillin initially thought I was incorrect, but did fix the issue the next day once she confirmed something was wrong on her end. On April 22nd, another mistake from my superiors led to my check getting delayed once again. Apparently, they forgot to put my name on the list of Writing Associates getting paid biweekly on April 11th. My boss made an emergency appeal to get me paid early, but still, I’m so sick of being forgotten by everyone here. To put the icing on this cake of sewage, Brittnei Sherrod at the Bonner Center forgot to request my $250 Bonner stipend this same Friday, and I received this the following week too. I thought my article about not getting paid for months while working on the Review’s Special Issue made this clear, but getting my money on time is a huge priority. If I need to keep writing and shouting for this place to do better, I’m more than willing to do so by this point (even if I’m sick of it).

Things are looking slightly better as of now ever since I’ve gotten put on to the few Oberlin resources built to fix matters like these. I recently had a meeting with Dean Harmony Cross and relayed as much of this information to her as I could. While she did admit there’s no guarantee she can fix this, I simply appreciate the fact she’s planning to advocate to the Office of Financial Aid for me. If nothing else, It’s nice to know that some people recognize working five jobs and getting paid occasionally is not okay or normal. If you’d like to help with my well-being paying for tuition and other miscellaneous expenses here, my cash app is $ReggieTheG, and my Venmo is @Reginald-Goudeau.

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