Delayed Pay for Review Editors Unacceptable

Editor’s note: The concerns raised in this article were addressed between the initial writing of the piece and publication. All Special Issue staffers have been compensated for their work. 

I could say that I didn’t want things to come to this, but deep down, I knew this article would be necessary months ago. As I alluded to in a previous article, payment for my work as the sole activism editor for The Oberlin Review’s 2021 Special Issue was delayed by over a month. Many of my colleagues on the Special Issue staff also waited weeks before receiving a dime for their hard work. Before I explain the worst implications of this error, I need to give some context. On May 24, the day I was accepted to work for the Special Issue. I agreed to the original pay arrangement of a $72.20 weekly stipend for a total of nine weeks. This arrangement came with the assumption that I would have a co-editor to help me do my job. Well, instead of this going smoothly, my co-editor had to back out due to prior conflicts — no hate here, as I heavily value them along with their decision. As such, I handled my section completely independently while remaining unpaid. After a month, I was beginning to wonder if I should’ve bailed as well when I had the chance.

Although it took a while, I eventually did hear back about my hours and plan for payment. The Review’s senior staff decided to raise my hours to reflect my increased workload without a co-editor. This gave me a needed reassurance that my money was on its way. As more time went by, however, that hope slowly faded away. I still worked hard despite receiving no compensation. Although I would’ve liked to stop working out of protest, how my section turned out reflected on me and my abilities. Quitting would only have put me in a more compromising position than being unpaid already did. The stress of doing this work — on top of being a member of several clubs and working two other jobs — made it difficult to complete coursework and maintain my mental health. I can’t speak for anyone else on the Special Issue staff, but the circumstances regarding my compensation negatively impacted my entire semester.

Almost two months after the original wage agreement, I finally received a contract to sign on July 13. This new contract featured a notable change in how I was being paid; whereas I initially expected pay at two-week intervals, I would now receive two stipend checks for the cumulative hours I worked on the entire issue. Unfortunately, the Review staff barely mentioned this before giving me the document, which stipulated that I was now supposed to receive half of my money in late July and the other half in the middle of August. Despite not receiving details about this change, I accepted the deal simply because I was exhausted. Getting my money later than intended was better than nothing. Unfortunately, the deadlines outlined in the contract were missed, and I did not receive any compensation by the end of July.

I started to wonder if I would even see a check by the end of the summer. I tried to contact the Review’s Managing Editor and the other members of senior staff, but they were as in the dark as I was. I was told that there was a lack of communication from the organizations responsible for getting the Special Issue staff paid, such as the Office of the Student Treasurer and the Office of Student Employment. I was not the happiest by this point, but I refused to blame people advocating for me and my colleagues. My patience continued to wane until I received an informal update from the Managing Editor on Aug. 6. According to them, I hadn’t gotten paid for the entire semester because of policy changes, shifts in administration, and typical miscommunication between offices that I cannot work with directly. It’s unsurprising to me that the only resolution for getting my money back is happening behind closed doors. I’ve only communicated with the Managing Editor to receive updates about payment for Special Issue work, but it appeared that the College couldn’t bother to keep them updated and informed. I wouldn’t have even gotten the information I did on Aug. 6 without a co-worker asking about pay in a group chat that day. That fact lets me infer that either the Review or this school would be more than willing to let our concerns go unnoticed far longer than they did without continued pressure.

On Aug. 13, I received an update in an email from the same editor who had been advocating for me and my co-workers for weeks. This email claimed that the earliest we could expect to receive payment was on Aug. 20. Truthfully, I was so exhausted by this whole ordeal that this part of the email wasn’t the most important to me. What stood out was that they gave us an apology, an explanation for the delay, a date to expect our check, and even offered to lend money to anyone in dire need of the funds. If the error in our payment truly did derive from lack of communication in the College’s administrative offices, then I would hope to receive correspondence from Oberlin clarifying this, but I doubt I ever will. Most of the team working on the Special Issue are low-income and have to regularly budget for other concerns inside and outside of Oberlin. We should not have to take time away from our schedules to beg for the money that we rightfully earned.

Frankly, the fact that I’ve had to actively search for the few updates I have received about pay tells me enough. It tells me that either the College or the Review does not want to prioritize paying a primarily low-income, first-generation, and POC staff member working on highlighting racial justice and diversity. Well, I refuse to accept that reality, and I hope this piece serves as just one warning to this place. I do not accept injustice without a fight, and my work is more than worth being paid on time — preferably with interest.