In their time on campus, most Duke students will eventually see some of their peers working jobs ranging from wrestling with jammed staplers behind the library information desk to scanning armfuls of late night snacks in the Lobby Shop. Those classmates are likely some of the many undergraduates employed by the university through work-study programs as a part of financial aid packages offered. Students are often compensated at around $10 per hour and have a wide range of positions available on DukeList with varying hours. On the surface, it may seem like a great opportunity to supplement a pizza budget or save up to buy a new gadget, but part-time employment can also often be a burden that comes with being low income at Duke.

Being a full time student is strenuous and, at times, overwhelming. This rings especially true at prestigious universities where cultures of over-commitment and overloading are deeply ingrained into student life. With the addition of a part-time job, on top of full course loads and the usual regimen of clubs and extracurriculars, work-study employees are facing even more of a rigorous balancing act. While work-study programs are voluntary, for students from working class backgrounds, taking on a job can be a necessity to pay for essentials that their wealthier peers wouldn’t think twice about swiping a credit card for. This additional financial strain can put low income Blue Devils at even more of a disadvantage. Fiscal realities of Duke frequently require poor students to juggle monetary and scholastic obligations while richer peers are able to spend more time pursuing their interests, enjoying social activities or simply relaxing. 

Even the task of applying for positions can be a hectic frenzy, a ritual further complicated when the student body demographics more likely to depend on these programs are also more likely to have less experience with resume or cover letter formatting. Added frustrations like chronic late payments serve as signs that while these programs are promoted to financially assist students, they often function with financially secure students in mind. While issues like late checks might not be particularly inconvenient for well-off recipients, logistical failings that delay payment could genuinely cause issues for those without a financial safety net.

Duke and other universities should take a critical look at the negative consequences of the current financial aid and work-study structure. Specifically, the relationship that certain students are forced to have with labor during their time here. This isn’t to say that these jobs have no place at Duke or are inherently exploitative; they can be exceedingly helpful for students seeking out job experience with the convenience of staying on campus. However, poor students who managed to get into Duke shouldn’t be facing such financial precarity on campus that they have to seek out employment. Duke has more than enough monetary resources to ensure that a dedicated undergraduate doesn’t have to take on more just because their parents can’t shell out tens of thousands of dollars each semester. Duke administration need to prioritize the ability of low income students to enjoy their time here and immerse themselves in rigorous course loads without the worry of pulling more shifts to afford basic necessities. To do anything less reinforces underlying hierarchical class dynamics at play on campus and reaffirms the unfair notion that poor students should have to work twice as hard to get even a fraction of what their wealthy peers enjoy.