This time four years ago, I was taking last-minute tours of campuses across the country, and there was something that made UF’s tours different. Was it the orange and blue? Was it that classic, mid-tour Gainesville rain shower? Close, but no — I noticed UF doesn’t pay their tour guides.
UF is not a perfect institution, and it doesn’t make you a hater to think or say that. As my time here is coming to a close, I’m reflecting on the work I’ve done at UF, both inside and outside of class.
I’ve never been a Florida Cicerone. I never applied and I never even considered applying. I love UF, but being a Cicerone is unpaid work. I chose instead to apply to be a 2016 Preview staffer. This choice was guided, in part, by financial incentive. As much as the campus loves the Preview program, not a lot of students know Preview staffers are paid. This matters.
To be honest, I wouldn’t have applied to Preview if it didn’t pay. You have to take — and pay for — a 3-credit, 4000-level class in the Spring, and then spend three months of your summer working your swampy butt off. To me, that sounds like we deserve compensation. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old, and paying Preview staffers made it feasible for me to apply.
Staffing as work creates an opportunity for low-income students to get involved — students who wouldn’t be able to commit their summers for free.
Involvement culture at UF disturbs me in a number of ways. One being the way it rhetorically encodes unpaid labor for the university as “Gator pride.” The attitude strikes me as elitist — you can love something and still need money to live. Unpaid labor takes privilege, and we need to see students without privilege given the opportunity to participate and succeed in every dimension of campus life. If major involvement opportunities at UF, like the Florida Cicerones, are serious about having a diverse group of students, they’re doing themselves a disservice by closing the door to students who love UF but have to work to be here.
Across the nation, tour guides at other institutions are paid. At our public-education rivals like the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Michigan and yes, even Florida State University, pay their tour guides. This is a small bar to clear. There doesn't need to be a big dispute. If the Alumni Association is serious about representing UF, they need to start paying the students who do the footwork for them. We owe it to incoming Gators to make this change before they ever knew there was such a gap.
Andrew Cushen is a UF Spanish senior.