Ryan Wynn ‘23
In a conversation with a fellow student-worker, she frustratingly vocalized her concern over insufficient wages as an employee of Holy Cross. “I had to find a supplementary form of income,” she stated, “the cost of groceries and loans have become too much. I turned to donating plasma because it paid more than any amount of labor I could do in a week.” This is not an aberration on this campus. From this conversation, I further learned that other Holy Cross students are donating their plasma in order to have enough money for necessary expenses, and there is a continuing growth of students considering this option.
The financial prospects of plasma donation are appealing to many students. “It’s easy money,” another student commented, “eight times in my first month of donating I can make around $110 to $130 a session.” This is quite enticing (especially considering that this is more than I earn in a week working two on-campus jobs). At most, students can earn approximately $1,000 their first month for plasma donations (subsequent months pay around $30-40 per session) compared to the measly prospects of an average of $360-$480 a month (before taxes, of course) working a weekly student employment position on-campus. What a difference! “This opportunity allows me to make much more than my labor. It’s less time out of my schedule too,” another student noted. This sounds like a good source of additional income for students, but this concept raises two pertinent concerns: students’ health and labor value.
Although this monetary incentive appears to be a safe source of additional income, it does not come without its own health risks. One student expressed their concerns and hesitancy regarding donating her plasma: “It completely drains you.” Others have noted similar consequences of this process. In an article by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington entitled “The Twisted Business of Donating Plasma,” it has been noted as well that there has been increasing worry over the intensification of plasma donating through the allowance of participants to donate up to twice a week. “I passed out for five hours after one plasma donation,” a student had told me, “it completely disrupted my day.” This is often one health consequence of donating plasma.
However, there are other risks as well with an injection of sodium citrate—an anti-blood clotting chemical. This chemical binds to the calcium in your body, making it unavailable for bodily function during this process. It often leaves donors feeling cold, but there are also other health risks regarding the function of the heart, the integrity of bones, and the possibility of seizures. These consequences do not present themselves at every plasma donation, but they are certainly risks and even long-term concerns frequent donors should be aware of.
The students I have talked to have often waived these health concerns to meet their economic needs. It has come to the point where their own health has been overlooked to live on this campus and pay their expenses. This conceptualization of a student being harvested for their plasma for money is a dystopian actualization of a joke that has often been made for decades about college students looking to make money. The literal selling of oneself just to provide somewhat economic stability on this campus highlights the irony of being a worker at such an affluent private institution. This underscores the pertinent issue of employment at this institution: the inadequate wages for the labor we produce.
The answer is not to work more hours to earn mere scraps. The average Holy Cross student is academically dedicated to four or five courses a semester. Each course load is demanding, with some majors challenging students further. Additionally, many students on this campus are involved in extracurricular activities such as sports and clubs. These commitments often restrict the flexibility and amount of hours a student can work. Students should not forgo these obligations and responsibilities to labor for more hours. We are student-workers. The “student” is emphasized first to display our duty to our academics and future before employment.
Further, Holy Cross has a monopolization of the student workforce on campus. As I previously mentioned, there are limits to how many hours students can work on top of their loaded academic schedules. Additionally, the location of Holy Cross is not conducive for many students to seek alternative employment opportunities within Worcester: there is not much accessibility through walking or public transportation to other places with more competitive wages. Most students do not have access to their own transportation to hurdle over these obstacles of a car-dependent environment. As a result, if a student needs to work, they are forced to accept the conditions of employment on this campus.
The contemporary economic challenges from the perspective of a working college student are daunting. We are seeing tuition and loan hikes, rent increases, inflation of the prices of groceries and other necessities, among numerous other expenses that fuel an anxiety whether we can meet the threshold to live. “I plan on working four jobs on campus next semester. I need to find a way to somehow pay my expenses,” another student told me, “If I were paid an adequate, competitive wage, I could alleviate my living costs and debts.” The concern of meeting these has been a shared value among the students that I have talked with, especially for graduating seniors who will be faced with additional financial concerns in the near future.
Students should not be worrying about meeting their financial means and should not be sacrificing their plasma to alleviate the situation. It is frankly a shame that such an affluent campus has failed to pay its student employees and its career staff livable wages. We should not be forced to desperately search for other forms of income. It is necessary to note the explicit contradictions between the concept of a “career” here on campus. These employment opportunities cannot provide a livable wage, so numerous staff members often seek multiple forms of employment just to survive.
There must be an implementation of a livable wage for the valuable labor we produce for this campus. This is not an infeasible, idyllic vision. This is the bare minimum. In simplest terms, the workers are being exploited on this campus. If we have to find multiple forms of employment and other supplementary income means in which we physically sell a part of ourselves just to meet our basic needs, this college has surely failed every single one of its workers. Without these career staff and student workers, our college could not function. We saw a glimpse of the consequences of understaffing during the pandemic up to last semester. If the institution will not pay these essential workers a livable wage, there will certainly be further issues with retaining employment and subsequently the efficient functioning of this campus.
Must I or any worker endure a blood sacrifice to survive on this campus? Must we ignore the health concerns of plasma donation to earn more money than the labor we produce for this campus? Workers on this campus deserve the dignity of a livable wage—both students and career staff alike. Not a single worker should be struggling. How can Holy Cross portray itself to uphold Jesuit values while ignoring the economic plights within its own community? It is time for the workers of this campus who are the backbone of this institution to demand fair treatment for the labor they produce.
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