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The undergrad as working stiff (Apr. 1998)

In popular culture, a Yalie is often portrayed as an American relative of P. G. Wodehouse’s fictional Bertie Wooster, the affable, overprivileged, bungling, and perennially underemployed member of the British upper class. In contrast to this picture, and to the experiences of a good number of parents of Yale undergraduates who are constantly being asked for a little more allowance money, the reality of the situation is that many Yalies actually do work during their undergraduate days.

Unlike the plodding Bertie, Yalies, with the lightning-quick reaction times of gunslingers from the old West, are real go-getters when it comes to finding a job. At the beginning of each semester, job seekers flock to the student employment office in Hendrie Hall, where the walls are literally papered with want ads. The crowd of students looking over the offerings of on-campus jobs usually runs three or four deep, and by the time a student is able to fight his or her way to the front of this melee, it is a good bet that at least five others have already noticed and applied for the one job that appeared perfect.

The jobs advertised on the wall run the gamut from babysitting professors’ children for a few hours a week to working as a research assistant or a student dining hall manager. Students who are working just to supplement their allowances carefully consider their own wage-to-hour-to-social-life calculus, which guides them in selecting a job that pays them the most money while taking up the least amount of free time. But what is sometimes missing from these calculations is the cost to one’s dignity, as one of my friends discovered when she took a job washing dishes in the Morse College dining hall. After a few days on the job, she was convinced that the dishwashing machine she was assigned to operate “was designed to humiliate the proletariat.”

A number of students, though, look beyond Hendrie Hall for what can best be described as non-traditional student employment. For example, I recognized the bouncer at a local bar as the incredibly oversized guy in one of my lecture courses from last semester. A few of my friends work as nude models for drawing and painting classes, pointing out that it is rare to be paid good money just to stand around. And rumor has it, though I have never actually verified this with my own eyes, that one of my fellow undergraduates works as an exotic dancer in a local nightclub.

My own experience as a working student has been varied. In my three years at school I have held a number of jobs. As a freshman, I was a telephone solicitor for the Yale Alumni Telefund, where I probably cost Yale more in long distance charges than I raised in donations. My sophomore year, I was a master’s aide in Morse, where I earned the master’s respect by teaching him how to operate his e-mail. I currently intern at the Yale Alumni Magazine, where I am hoping to master the technique of transferring calls before the year is out. However, because of my future political ambitions, and out of concern for my mother’s health, none of my jobs have involved me disrobing in public—though there is always next year.

Sandy Christopher ’99, a frequent contributor to this page, is no worse at transferring calls than the rest of the Yale Alumni Magazine staff.

Filed under 1990s
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