Produced by David King and Noah Connors
The second episode in The Haverford Clerk’s podcast series, The Consensus. On this episode, David King ’20 interviews Mike Elias, Dean of Student Engagement and Leadership Initiatives, and Maurice Rippel ’19, Students’ Council Co-President. They discuss student work, service, and burnout.
David King: Hello, and welcome to The Consensus, a podcast brought to you by the Haverford Clerk, Haverford’s online newspaper. I’m your host, David King. Thanks for being with us. On today’s episode, I speak with Mike Elias, Dean of Student Engagement and Leadership Initiatives, and Maurice Rippel, Students’ Council Co-President, about the difference between student work and student service, apathy on campus, and student burnout. Check it out. We hope you enjoy.
David King [D.K.]: OK. Good morning, and welcome to The Consensus. My name is David King, and today, I am here with Maurice Rippel and Mike Elias to talk about student work, student service, and student apathy at Haverford. So, Mike and Maurice—would you introduce yourselves?
Maurice Rippel [M.P.]: Hey, is this Maurice.
D.K.: [Laughs] What’s your position on campus?
M.P.: Oh, um, on campus, I’m one of our Student Council Co-Presidents, and I’ve had the pleasure of working across campus on different projects, um, sometimes also with The Clerk.
Mike Elias [M.E.]: Hi everyone—Mike Elias, I’m one of the Advising Deans, and I’m also the Dean for Student Engagement and Leadership Initiatives.
D.K.: Mike, so you’re on the Task Force for Work and Service, right?
M.E.: Can you tell us a little bit about what that means.
M.E.: Yeah. So, Jennifer Barr from the CCPA and I are co-chairing the Task Force. I think there’s been a lot of conversations among students—and frankly, from my office and from Career Services as well—about, from my end more about leadership and preparation for professional opportunities outside of Haverford, and how students’ leadership helps them, sort of, develop those skills. And from the CCPA as well, thinking about how the work opportunities on campus, and in some cases, some of the service opportunities, are actually giving students really strong professional skills. I think the bigger context of this Task Force, though, is to take a very large, comprehensive look at the way that we’ve been hiring students, and that, I think, entails a lot. It entails wages, we’re looking at whether the amount of work students are doing across all the different employment positions at the college is equitable,are the hiring practices consistent, are students even being asked to submit resumes? Do all the jobs actually get posted? Because currently they’re not. And so, I think what’s happening is there’s a there’s some discrepancies between not only how students are finding the positions they have, but then what the experience in those positions look like, and we need to start working from both, I think, from a hiring manager perspective, and then from a student perspective, of how we start to create more transparency and also equity across the board. And then the second part is: how do we define service, and what is the difference between where students are doing work for the college, and where they’re participating in service that’s on behalf of the college or the external community as well.
D.K.: Right. And we’ll touch on that just a little bit later in this episode. Maurice, so, give me give me a little bit of a sense of how you’re approaching this issue.
M.P.: I think my background is—where I really stand on this issue is, about where burnout comes from—I think burnout comes from not having a sense of direction or having a sense of everything that’s required of you in a position when you get into it. I’m not sure what you’re supposed to be sort of learning while in it. Um, so I remember for me as a first-year student, the transition alone to the academics was already rigorous, and admittedly, I was also pretty disorganized. At the same time, I still found myself getting involved in Honor Council, and I took an Exec Board position on that, which took up a lot of my nights. And those nights that I wasn’t serving on trials, I had a couple of jobs on campus, one of those primarily was working as a Campus Safety and security escort. And so, I think from all of that going on in the background, and then just trying to adjust the academics, I began struggling in my classes. I think there was, one point, when I failed seven, eight Italian quizzes in a row. And at the same time, I just became increasingly frustrated with the work that I was doing on Honor Council, which felt like I wasn’t going anywhere. Um, you know, making the rounds to different affinity groups, and trying to get a planning resolution passed, all of this in my freshman year, to the point where I was like: “What am I really doing?” I got really fed up with how my work seemed to be going on campus, and it felt like yeah, it felt like I was like: “Why am I doing this work?” “What am I getting from it?”
D.K.: Mike, you want to respond on that one?
M.E.: Yeah yeah yeah. So this originally started from Maurice and I having a back-and-forth via text, when he was writing something—and you know, I think Maurice, what you’re talking about is the sort of lack of clarity in terms of being able to—number one—to sparse what you needed to do for employment purposes, right, to collect money, and in service. And then […] what service is defined as. And you know, I see it a lot, where I think about the job perspective and a development perspective students get, and rightfully so, there’s a lot of opportunities on campus the students dive right into it without I think really inventorying: “What am I doing?” “Why am I doing it?” “What am I getting out of it?” And in some cases, some of the things that we consider a service or like participating in the college governance system in some way are actually really good professional opportunities and just good skill building opportunities for students that I don’t know their thinking through. That’s not to say that you’re also a student will need to have some form of employment but I almost feel like there’s we’re giving the students, in some cases, there’s too many options and what it’s just, it’s just creating over-involvement and then leading to some sort of burnout, and then that inventory process of like: “What do I need to do in order to earn a paycheck?” And then “What do I need to do to actually advance this thing I’m thinking about?” I’m trying to do in this initiative trying to do at Haverford. They get too, sort of, I think, closely related.
M.R.: I agree Mike, and I think something that I needed to realize at the end of my freshman year, was that because of my background, and because I needed to work on campus, but I did have a desire to make this place better. I had to think critically about: “What are the ways in which I could do both right?” So, for me, that led to working on The Clerk and being able to write and edit articles while, at the same time, focusing on issues that were really important to me on campus, and really important to the communities that I was coming from, and led to work eventually on Students’ Council, which thankfully is—as you said—because it is really a professional opportunity as well, to get to operate within the shared governance structure of the college. It’s also a paid opportunity for me because my financial aid status and so it really required, I think, critically think about ‘What did I want to get out of a position?’ And also like “Could this position sort of also meet some of my basic needs financially and professionally?”
D.K.: Right. So, it seems like we’re coming back to this issue of where to draw the distinction between student service and student work. Between employment, and sort of volunteer—stuff that is necessary for this college to run, and for students to be engaged, and for us to advance ourselves in a positive direction. So, Mike, from the viewpoint of the administration, what would you say is the main distinction between those two? if it’s not just payment-based.
M.E.: Yeah, yeah. I want to clarify though, it’s viewpoint from me. I want to speak collectively for my colleagues.
D.K.: Right that’s a great clarification.
M.E.: But I think there’s a couple of things happening here. I think part of it is that the demographics of our student body have drastically changed over time, and quite rapidly even from 2012 or ’13. I think the governance structures that that we have in place that are like sort of like the foundational, traditional ways in which self-governance operates here, or the ways in which we involve students in the operations of the college in some cases have not adapted. I think—actually I’d make an argument that in some cases, we could actually consolidate some of the committees and the structures that we have, to not only move the student initiatives forward in a more efficient way, but also cut down on the amount of different committees that students are serving on, that are sometimes—this is another piece—unclear about what they’re getting into, until they do it. Right? So, the Clearness Committee—they’re doing a fantastic job—but the Clearness Committee pops up this year, and that that is a significant amount of work that’s not paid. That is a part of the governance and student advocacy at the college which, again, students are participating in the Committee and they’re doing really important work, but the reality is: Did they have an expectation about how much time and investment it would take before they start? And so, then there’s also the dynamic of—we’ve also grown in terms of the departments and the staff that we have here as well to create larger systems of support. And so, now, we have this really interesting dynamic where a department is hiring a student to serve a specific role in the office and it’s paid. And then when students start an initiative, I think it’s hard for them to differentiate between, like: “I’m starting this initiative, and it’s going to benefit the college in this way.” Right? But the college isn’t necessarily asking the student to do that—it’s a student-driven project. And so, I think that that needs to be teased out a little bit more and discussed a little bit more because it’s not as if we don’t want our students contributing those really unique opportunities and developing the community and really specific ways. But that I think is where some of the work-slash-services getting muddled slightly.
M.E.: On top of the fact that there are way too many, sort of, student governance structures that, I think, are actually limiting our ability to solve some of the community issues faster.
D.K.: Yeah. Yeah that makes sense. Maurice, do you want to say something to that?
M.R.: Yes. Yeah, I think I just really want to highlight something that Mike said, which was I think that it’s a really Haverfordian thing to do, for students to actually take on more work in a role than it actually requires sometimes.
M.R.: And I think it stems from that whole intention of wanting to make this place better which is a beautiful thing—it’s something that I’m guilty of too—but I think some of it also comes from, once again, not knowing what the expectations are or not knowing fully right now what the goals are, that you have, when you enter into an opportunity. As a result, you try to make it something that works better for you or it makes sort of sense toward, like, what your vision of the things should be, right? So, I’m thinking about Customs specifically, and I’m thinking about: “At its core, what is it?” And so, as a CP, I remember like thinking about—as a CP, I should be at hall sessions, I should be at, you know obviously my serve during Customs Week, but then after that I’m like: “Do you have to go to every hall dinner, for example?” “Do you have to go to every hall trip to Philadelphia?” And all those additional things that I think people do because they love this place—because they love their hall. Whatever comes with an opportunity. But, actually, what actually are the requirements of the thing? And, as a result, it ends up with students not always taking time for themselves or, it leads to some of that burnout I think, when you’re essentially overcommitted to a thing. And so, something I think your office is already doing a great job of ,Mike, is like delineating: “What are the expectations?” “What does it look like, potentially, hourly for Customs, and roles, and responsibilities—things like that?”
D.K.: So, Mike, I want to ask you a follow up to that. So, when you see people burning out, when you see people becoming disenchanted—because I assume that your office, particularly, sees that a lot.
D.K.: So, with people not sort of being willing to serve with or for the school anymore, in a position that’s not compensated. How do you respond? How do you re-emphasize the importance of the work that they’re doing?
M.E.: I hear two questions in that one question. The first is like: “How am I actually working with that student?” And I think it takes time, to sort of, tease out an inventory—how many things they’re actually doing—which I think from my end sometimes it’s nearly impossible to know, until the student just starts to share—and then trying to understand where they’re putting their energy; where their energy feels most valuable. And so, you know—if they’re involved in five different committees, and they’re on our Honor Council or something—like where can you commit the most amount of time to feel like you make the most impact? On the burnout question, the second part of what I heard your question is actually very interesting. I’m not shy about the fact that I feel like we actually create more confusing processes here to get projects to move forward than is necessary. We’re a campus of 1300 students, max, right now. We have 150 people in Customs. There’s 130 student organizations, there’s 18 people on Students’ Council, JSAAPP has a full committee, Honor Council is a massive size. If you inventory all the ways our students are involved—we have 142 people involved in the club sports program—You’ve actually, and not counting athletes, or counting athletes, I mean, that’s got to be most of the student body. And so, what we’re doing is, I think, we’re in an effort to create more mechanisms of community engagement, we’re actually dispersing conversations out so far across campus that it’s taking time. It’s taking longer than it should to actually just move something forward. So, you know when a students burned out, and I’m thinking: “I’ve seen you at, you know, four or five different meetings this week, and the same conversation has come up with five different committees.” Then, my thought is: “Why are we not just having this conversation in one shared space?” Because, in some cases, students are actually going to different spaces or groups or meetings or whatever asking for the same things. And it’s just taking a long time for it to give back to the mechanism that will move it forward.
D.K.: So, you mentioned earlier um this idea of maybe centralizing some of these conversations, some of these committees, um, Maurice, as someone involved actually in student government, as someone who’s taken up many of those positions, and had, sort of, those disparate conversations all over again.
M.E.: Maybe too many!
D.K.: All right.
M.R.: Never too many [Laughs].
D.K.: You know I’m one of those people who really does appear in all five of those meetings having the same conversation in the week. What are your thoughts on this? How do we get to a place where we’re not, so much, just having the same conversations, but we are centralized and centered around particular issues as a campus and we can have real unity, in a sense?
M.R.: Yeah. It’s a good question, David. I think I want to first highlight that students have more agency in this than they may immediately think—in regards to burnout, in regards to the fact that these conversations are really happening in these silos. And so, I think it goes back to: “How can we think about changing our present structures to fit the needs of the modern students?” I think, in addition to all those things that, Mike, you just highlighted about clubs, and sports, and varsity athletics, etc, .ike there is a substantial part of this population that’s also working on top of this and things like that. And so, I think we need to think about how like for example does it make sense that students are involved in 30 plus committees? Or the roles of Students’ Council for example we’ve been interrogating this year about does the current structure make sense and I think it’s on every student group to be having those individual conversations within themselves, to think about:“What is the work that we’re actually doing in our roles, and what makes more sense going forward, as our campus changes increasingly?” So, something we’ve thought about, in particular, is changes to the budget—and the budgeting process—is something Mike and I have talked about. Something Students’ Council has been working on, is like, with elections, I’m thinking about: “Is the reason we’re having trouble getting people to run for different things—is it rooted in, because of the workload. that, you know, it takes to be an Honor Council? Is that why juniors and seniors particularly not running? And, if so, what can we do to change that?” Or is it the fact that like the role the elections coordinator and some of the work behind that is it’s a massive load. So, does that need to be shifted? So, interrogating where it is that the issues coming from.
M.E.: I think part of it is also the positions are just ambiguous, and we do nothing to educate students when they get here about what they’re like. So, I imagine being relatively new to the community, and you just get an email calling for, you know, a rep to a committee, and first of all, you don’t know what the committee particularly does, and you also don’t know why you need a first year, or a sophomore, or junior, or senior rep, you’re just like: “Wow.” I mean, I don’t know why I would—if I was a student—put myself in that position. I don’t know why I would apply, because I actually don’t know what it would do. And that’s where I think we get really that’s where it creates like a logjam, because we’re, you know—I’m trying not to pick specific groups, because I don’t want them to feel like—if a committee is meeting and then a committee needs a rep from somewhere else, and that rep needs to go back to Council, and then Council discusses it and goes back to that committee, then that rep goes back to another committee…What’s happening is it’s taking us an entire semester to basically acclimate people to these positions, and by the time they get acclimated to it, in some cases, their time in the position is up. And so, we’re just cycling people through roles and there is never—and there’s also not like a convening, besides Plenary. And I think what’s happening with Plenary is like, people are having these conversations in so many other different places, that by the time the community convenes, they don’t necessarily want to rehash it all again. So, I don’t know, there needs to be a reorganization of the governance model that allows students to either—when you’re going to participate in something like Clearness Committee, that you know the commitment you’re about to jump into, and that know it’s going to be time intensive. And if you’re not, there should be an opportunity for students to be able to go to—like they did [with] the Town Hall—and just basically be present for 45 minutes and say: “I’m frustrated with this; or this is working; or this is not,” and then rely on the actual governance—the student governance body of the college—to be able to advocate and mobilize things. It’s the same with Plenary. A student should be able to go up in Plenary and make a policy proposal that’s a value-based statement, right? Like: “I think that the college should do a better job of ‘insert whatever.’” Right? That’s a value-based statement. And what that does is it challenges the committees that exist to go back and resolve that, and to ensure that the systems that we have to resolve that, work. And so, I don’t know, that’s so sort of a little bit of a side tangent, but…
D.K.: Yeah, no, I think that’s a great point, Mike. Maurice did you want to say something on that?
M.R.: Yeah, I think something that sort of goes along with that is the question of institutional memory—or lack thereof, rather. I think a big thing that we don’t have at Haverford is just really a means or mechanism to know, like sort of, what Mike was saying: What is the expectation? What is the role? What is the time commitment? When I take on this position to something like Students’ Council President, can be it’s even closer to work anywhere from five to 15 hours a week. And so, like, you know you don’t have a sense of what that could look like theoretically until you see I think something that the president’s last year and off council did really well was having transition docs prepared for us, and letting folks know like: “This what’s going to be the expectation; This is what I did week to week; This is a sense of the projects that I was able to undertake; These are the people that I talked to.” And I think more of that, passed down between, you know Co-Heads of a club to the next Co-Heads, and team captains to future team captains, Presidents to future Presidents. And it’s something that also can help with, sort of, avoiding some of that burnout, and whatnot.
M.E.: We’ve been talking with the VPs a lot too, about the way that we actually put—because don’t forget there’s also students on college committees that are not just student-based committees—and you know it’s…
D.K.: Sorry, can you give an example for that?
M.E.: Yeah—like the Education Policy Committee, CSSP, CER—those where it’s a blend of faculty, staff, and/or students. And the Co-VPs make the calls for those positions. You know, every year, they’re constantly in like, a race, to try to figure out if a committee, if a college committee still wants students there, and if they do, how many they want, and what those students doing, so they can run appointments properly. It occurred to us that—number one—that needs to be assessed pretty heavily. But, number two—we should actually do it the opposite way. So, if you have a college committee that you want a student on, then we should—instead of them going and reaching out to every one of these committees—they should put a call out at the beginning of the semester and say: “Dear faculty and staff, if you have a committee, tell us.” Right? So, almost like the way we register for clubs and orgs, we can start to imagine that list will start to get cut down a little bit. It will also keep good records of what committees are standing from semester- or year-to-year. And then we can be intentional about the students that we actually call, and give them expectations to what they’re about to do, instead of being—in some cases they get on one, and it’s actually a lot of work; Other cases they get on it, and they’re—I imagine that they’re like: “What am I’m doing here?”
D.K.: Right. Yeah that’s good that’s a great point, Mike. I think what we’ve been touching on a lot throughout this episode, and something I want to wrap up with is the idea that on both sides—from the side of the college administration and from the side of the students—there is a sense of mutual responsibility that the college has some responsibility to its students, and the students have some responsibility to college. And those responsibilities are filled in different ways—someare compensated, some are not, some are volunteer-based, some are committee-based. But I want to really try and clarify with you guys what that responsibility is. What is the responsibility of the college to the students, and what obligation do the students have to the college? If any?
D.K: So Maurice, do you…
M.R.: I was about to say: “Mike can start with that one.”
M.E.: All right, all right. So, this might come out kind of choppy, but I am going to try to hash this out. There’s obviously a shared-governance model. I think there are components of the institution that were very clearly student-generated, right?Like the Clearness Committee came out of a Plenary proposal. That’s a student initiative that, obviously, the college supports, because it has to do with their experience here…Wait, just to clarify, you want me to define between ‘work’ and ‘service,’ or just where does the shared responsibility lie?
D.K.: Yeah. What’s the responsibility on both ends. So, you’re coming from the administration standpoint. So, what do you feel is the responsibility of the college administration to its students?
M.E.: I’ll talk about my—the way I approach my job is to think about being an advocate and being able to properly support the student experience here. The reality is that, in many different ways, I need students to share and vocalize what their experience is like in order to be able to respond, or advocate, or support them appropriately. To me, self-governance means that students have that ability to be able to form a committee, be on a college committee, walk in my office and say: “Hey, you know, the international student population on campus is growing, and we need a space to meet. We need a space to gather regularly.” Right. To me, that does not happen everywhere. I want to, I want to suggest that this place is very unique in the way that students have that opportunity. So, let’s use that example. Students bring that to, really anybody: Students’ Council, my office, another administrator, whatever. It’s our responsibility to discuss that and determine the feasibility, financial means, whatever space to make that happen. Where I think the line split on that is that the students have advocated for themselves—within their right, in the self-governance model—to bring this to our attention, right? We’ve all clearly recognized that it’s a need. I would not go back and ask those students—I mean, they’re always going to do some like preliminary: tell me a space that you’d be interested in, what do you need to spend, financial costs, whatever—but I’m not going to necessarily completely rely on them to mobilize the entire project. And I think that’s where it gets unclear, right? Because, for example, the Facilities Fund is a great example. Students proposed to the Facilities Fund to initiate projects on campus. That is not a paid position. Those are students advocating for college finances to support a project they’re interested in. That’s different than if my office wanted to start a podcast, and set aside financial resources to be able to hire several students in that position and say they we’re running a podcast, right? And I think that’s where we have to keep having this—it’s not clear cut, it’s sort of gray area—but I think that’s where we need to be more thoughtful about where we hear a student issue a need and where we’re able to not only put resources but then how we’re working with students in a way that isn’t necessarily dumping all the work back onto them if it, in fact, is not a job. Because they’re advocating for their experience, and that’s different than my office hiring them.
M.E.: Does that makes sense?
D.K.: Yeah. Maurice, from the side of the students, what is the responsibility of students to college?
M.R.: I think something that’s kind of inherent within the Honor Code is the idea that every student is sort of somewhat expected to serve. If at the very least to go to Plenary, to be engaged, to thoughtfully think about the resolutions, to speak to them, and to vote accordingly. And it’s something that I think that, yeah—we’ve seen over the past couple Plenaries that there’s been—I don’t know how to articulate this—We’ve talked a little bit about this David, but it’s been a conversation. [Pause]. I think that, yeah, it’s on every Haverford student to be sort of involved at that sort of core, basic level. What we’ve seen though—with the fact that, between elections, and what we’ve seen with most service participation on committees, or lack thereof, has been, I think a shift in our understandings of what student involvement to the college looks like. And I think it means that we, as students, have to, once again, re-interrogate—and I’ve said this earlier—like, what it means to serve at Haverford. And, at the end of the day, committees won’t change—at least student-driven committees won’t change—unless we take it to Plenary and change them. The hours and expectations on government structures such as Honor Council or Students’ Council won’t change unless we’re the ones to drive those sorts of changes. And we have the means for doing that at Plenary. I think furthermore, more broadly, I think students are expected—one, to be students first. And I want to really emphasize that: You’re here, first and foremost, to do well in your classes—to get your degree, and eventually to go on to a job. And so, even though other things that students take on may be really integral to your identity, and really integral to who you are and your experience on campus, it’s also important to recognize that I think not everything should be on you. And so, whether that means talking with your Dean, whether that means collaborating with your peers, or whether that means knowing when to take steps back, knowing when you actually do have to take your academics first and foremost, before being able to go on to other things. So, I think it does take a lot of individual commitment to assess, and think about, what can I do, and what do I need, but I think that that also is a pretty big part. Obviously, you’re a student first, and then, like after that, there’s also these sort of these other inherent parts of the Haverford student experience and engaging where you can, according to your ability.
D.K.: Maurice and Mike, thanks so much for you time.
M.E.: Thank you, David.
M.R.: Thank you, David.
David King: Thanks for listening to this conversation with Mike Elias and Maurice Rippel. We hope you liked it. Stay tuned for more content from The Consensus. In the meantime, check out The Clerk’s website at www.haverfordclerk.com. This episode was recorded by David King and produced by Noah Connors. The Editor-in-chief of The Clerk is Ali Rosenman, and our music was written and recorded by Mattias Lundberg.