Trent University: jobs for all

An article recently published on The Examiner, titled: “Trent University: No Jobs for Canadian Students?” outlines an ill-funded and misinformed opinion about student job opportunities at Trent University.

The article described how at a particular point in time, the few jobs posted for students in the Trent Job Board were exclusively for international students. This was extrapolated to wrongly argue that jobs on campus were only for international students.

Upon conducting some research, this misleading and sensationalist argument is not only false, but also falls under a discriminatory rhetoric. First, let’s get the facts straight:

According to Trent’s Payroll office, this summer there are currently 256 Trent students on payroll, and of these, 16 are international students. During the 2014-2015 school year, there were 537 students on payroll of which 33 were international students (not including TA’s, lab demonstrators, et cetera, who are members of CUPE2).

The Trent International Program (TIP) funds some positions through the Trent International Program Scholarship Fund. TIP Scholarship Funds subsidize around 20 ten-hour-per-week student jobs on campus each year. These are particularly targeted to positions in which an international student’s perspective is valuable to the organization, such as in student-led organizations (OPIRG, TCSA, Seasoned Spoon, Arthur, Kawartha World Issues Centre, etc.).

In terms of how the positions are posted on Trent’s online job board, sometimes they are posted throughout the year, and often a number of positions from one office or one funding source come up at the same time. A couple of weeks ago, TIP funded positions appeared online at the same time. These postings were used in a disingenuous manner by the article to argue that all jobs were for international students, when in fact only 20 positions are directed solely to international students annually.

The financial aid office specifies that financing of most other student positions take place through a mix of operating budget funding, which is open to all students, and funding through the Trent Work Study Program (TWSP). In order to qualify for TWSP, the student must be Canadian, a full-time student, and eligible for financial aid (e.g. OSAP, other provincial aid programs, band funding).

Other offices also work in this manner. For instance, Student Affairs tends to hire all their summer student staff at the same time. Similarly, Housing hires all the residence dons in the winter semester for the upcoming year.

According to Dr. Michael Allcott, TIP’s Director, “the TIP Job Subsidy was established to address an inequity many international students faced:  jobs funded by OWSP (now TWSP), as well as other programs funded by the province or the federal government, are not open to international students.”

As a result, “Trent is committed to providing an inclusive environment for all students, and the TIP Job subsidy aims to ensure that there is some equity in access to on-campus employment,” he added.

This article is problematic not only because it is based upon false information and a complete lack of any serious research, but also due to how that information was utilized to construct a misleading argument. It is extremely important to be reflexive of the implications and consequences of our words.

For instance, the article reads: “Low and behold the only positions available on campus were for international students. Now I am not talking about an odd job here and there, for translating or outreach perhaps. I mean jobs in nearly every department at the university, all exclusively for foreign students.”

First, the statement that the only positions available on campus were for international students is misleading.

Lo and behold, only 20 jobs out of 537 are only for international students each year.

Secondly, the notion that ‘foreign’ students should get an “odd job here and there, for translation or outreach perhaps’ is a demonstration of a discriminatory rhetoric. It is reductive and offensive, and suggests that international students hold a second-class status and should not be afforded equal access. International students have the same right as domestic students to participate in all areas of the university experience.

Furthermore, the article also plays with the notion that Trent is a publicly funded institution and that it is locally driven and therefore should favour domestic students over international students. These types of arguments are in line with those who argue that non-Canadian residents benefit from taxpayers as if they were free riders.

In fact, international students also pay taxes and contribute to the economy. Jobs for international students are not handouts. International tuition fees are, on average, at least twice that of domestic students. In fact, attracting international students is becoming increasingly important to the future viability of universities.

Since international students do not qualify for OSAP, they rely on scholarships/bursaries and limited part-time jobs. To say that all jobs or even that many jobs are for international students alone is outrageous given the barriers that exist.

The Trent Central Student Association’s (TCSA) president, Alaine Spiwak, expressed that “the article disappointed us at the TCSA as it was inaccurate and misleading to Trent students and the Peterborough community. We felt it was unfair to international students who already face so many barriers perusing post-secondary education in a different country.”

“The TCSA believes that the ethical balance Trent has formed to address job equity on campus aligns with Trent’s values of being a diverse and inclusive campus.” she added.

Moreover, Nona Robinson, Vice President of the Students Affairs office, expressed that “students who work on campus often feel an increased sense of connection to the university, and also learn about how the office functions. In many cases students are involved in peer helper roles, and that can be both very gratifying, and also help them hone valuable transferable skills.”

These valuable opportunities should be open to all students and therefore systems are put in place, such as the TIP Subsidy Fund, to work towards creating more equity and opportunities for all students.

The article also argues that: “only after every born Canadian student who wants a job, has a job, should employment opportunities be afforded to international temporary students.”

This is a prime example the underlying racist rhetoric in the article. There is a distinction made between the ‘born’ Canadian, which excludes immigrants, and international students who the article defines as ‘temporary’. What happens to those Canadians who were not born in Canada? Should they have less access to jobs and a different set of rights? What about permanent residents or refugees? What happened to the notion of Canada as a multicultural nation?

This seems in line with a discourse of ‘us’ versus ‘them’, which has an orientalist background. These arguments are extremely dangerous because they lead to the differentiation of one group of people over the other, which often leads to prejudices, hatred, and systematic disadvantage.

Words are powerful instruments. The right to express an opinion is one of the most fundamental pillars of any democratic society. However, we must be careful not to fall into misleading arguments based on distorted information, which have the power to generate discriminatory and racist prejudices.

Here is a link to the original article: