In the blooming buzzing campus that is our city within a city, few things get past our mental adblocker like the first-hand accounts of people who have shared our experience. With that in mind, I've been making a greater effort to bring you more content on this blog from current and former McGill workers and students.
Last week I caught up with the immensely sharp librarian and McGill University alumni Jessica Gallinger to chat about the issue of wages. She is not an expert on labour issues or income inequality, and she is not an organizer from this campaign. There is a time a place for those sorts of posts, but this isn’t it. Jessica is simply an articulate and well informed member of our community. From 2007 to 2010 she completed a Joint Honours B.A. in English literature and psychology at McGill as an out-of-province student. Her McGill life was then followed by a Master’s degree at the University of Toronto. Currently Jessica is on contract as the Systems & Data Services Librarian at Okanagan College in Kelowna, B.C. Here is what she had to say:
MB: While you were studying at MU, did the absence of a 15$ minimum wage negatively affect your scholastic achievement or that of your colleagues?
JG: Yes. It’s not an even playing field. University is democratically imagined as an institution to allow social mobility for meritorious individuals. However, when full-time students without financial support are in poverty, it’s impossible for them to compete with well-advantaged peers at the very highest levels. If you’re working 10h/week at a minimum wage job, that’s time your peers are using to study, buff up their CVs with extracurricular work, or even do personal care. And you’re expected to compete with them to get into an honours program or for graduate school. Of course, their facilitated scholastic achievement gives them more advantages early in adult life, which directs a person a long way.
MB: Many people, especially in elite schools, hold scholarly achievement as a value above their material needs. They feel that helping the field to advance is worth some suffering and thus refuse to become involved in any material struggles of the day. What would you say to someone of that opinion regarding the ‘15 and fairness’ campaign?
JG: Students tend to be overly optimistic about their futures. You may think that suffering or taking on debt is OK because you’ll achieve a positive resolution upon graduation, but in my experience that often doesn’t happen. Most of my peers have insecure jobs and many are delaying milestones like getting married and starting a family because of their financial situations. If pursuing knowledge is important to you now, consider that accepting debt will restrict your ability to take risks and pursue your ideals in the future.
Furthermore, those who altogether waive financial considerations in order to pursue scholarship typically have strong support networks that they can depend on if they get into a really tough situation. It’s the people who are fighting to enter the middle class who are acutely aware of their own precariousness. If your mom buys you a warm winter coat, you’re depending on her income too. Not everyone is supported by their mom – in fact, some students have to be caregivers to their own parents. By standing with the status quo of poverty wages, you are impeding students from lower income families from fair opportunities in higher education.
Stay tuned for more such interviews with members of the McGill community in the weeks to come.
This blog is a new initiative of the 15 and Fair McGill Coalition. Curated by MM and MB. This interview was conducted by MB in May 2016. The subject of the interview retains all copyright claims over its use.