The Price of Unpaid Internships

By Clare Bonnyman

The voices of students used in this piece were collected anonymously from a sample of 37 post-secondary students that have completed unpaid internships.

Today’s graduating students struggle.

Many earn a degree, but have little or no technical experience, and an obvious solution is an internship.

Today, unpaid internships are becoming infamous, warranting headlines and strong reactions.

“I think they are so insidiously evil,” said Bridget Eastgaard, creator of personal finance blog Money After Graduation.

“There is this mind set of the people that have completed unpaid internships. They act like it has made them a better person because they had to struggle so much,” she said.

Eastgaard calls it “The Bootstrapping Millennial Martyrdom Complex”, and has written about it in her blog. Essentially, those who suffered in the early years of their career see it as a rite of passage, and believe all others should too.

And with discussions within federal government trying to protect young workers, the limits of student suffering are up for discussion.

Today, more than ever students are paying to work, giving in to the ‘hidden costs’ of unpaid internships.

The hardest cost is deciding between paid work or an unpaid internship, but for Eastgaard, the benefits of working for free is not worth doing full time.

“I don’t want to see young people working 100 hours a week because they have to have two full time jobs,” she said

More than 50 per cent of the post-secondary students surveyed had part time jobs, and more than half kept those jobs while completing an unpaid internship.

Current proposed federal legislation would allow unpaid internships of four months or less. Originally proposed under the Harper Conservatives, the proposed changes to the Canada Labour Code focus on internships in federally regulated sectors that are “primarily for the benefit of the intern.”

Advocacy groups representing students pulled out of the consultations due to this proposed change.

The average part time job is 15 hours a week, and minimum wage in Ontario is $11.25 an hour; the average student taking four months off of work loses out on at least $2,700 dollars over 16 weeks.

Full time hours would earn them at least $6,300.

Internships can push students to work overtime, creating a struggle to balance budget and build a decent resume.

Quitting a paying job can make things harder.

“It’s one thing to take a job that you’re not getting a pay cheque for, but it’s quite another to leave a job to take a job that you’re not getting a pay cheque for,” said Eastgaard.

Other issues include relocating or commuting costs.

“A really good opportunity sometimes comes with those associated costs of moving,” said Eastgaard.

One student surveyed relocated to stay with family for free, while another spent $1,000 dollars on flights. When asked why they simply said, “one day I want a job.”

Another student took an opportunity abroad that also came with a costly commute. Her employer had promised a bus pass, but that never materialized, causing problems for a tight budget.

Student’s reported spending anywhere from $50 to $10,000 on relocation costs for unpaid positions, with 40 per cent of respondents spending more than $1,000.

Some costs are less obvious as well.

Unpaid internships can also force students into buying new equipment, clothing or joining networking activities.

Students reported spending up to $600 on these ‘satellite’ costs.

Tallied up, internships ranged from one week to five months, and cost anywhere from nothing to $10,000, not including lost wages.

Students keep costs low by staying close to home, living with friends or family, and keeping a tight budget for food and clothing.

In any case, internships are a serious financial burden, but a dream opportunity is hard to pass up.

Eastgaard’s advice is to evaluate the ROI— return on investment.

“When you’re considering an internship that is going to impact your finances in a negative way, make sure that it ultimately will have a positive ROI in your career,” she said.

“It can’t be just like ‘yay I’m bringing someone coffee in publishing.”

When it comes to the students, some call internships “a necessary evil,” while others feel they “should be illegal.”

For Eastgaard, it’s very simple.

“People should just be paid, period.”

Tobacco sales banned on post-secondary campuses

(Originally posted on November 18, 2014)

By Clare Bonnyman

New provincial anti-smoking regulations ban the sale of tobacco products on post-secondary campuses. The legislation comes into effect in January, removing tobacco products from the shelves of campus retailers across Ontario.

For most Ottawa institutions, the regulation won’t change anything. Algonquin College and University of Ottawa removed tobacco products from campus retailers’ years ago, meanwhile Carleton University has not.

Of the Carleton retailers, no vendor overseen directly by the university sells tobacco products. However, retailers run by the student groups the Carleton University Student Association and Rideau River Residence Association, do.

“This is something that’s been coming for quite some time,” said CUSA Business Operations Manager Rod Castro. “We just never really knew what the time frame was.”

Castro oversees Henry’s convenience store on the Carleton University campus, a centrally located spot for students to pick up a snack, and where they used to be able to buy cigarettes.

Castro said that they are not the stores top-selling item, as “cigarettes are more of a traffic creating item, sort of like gas is at a gas station.”

However the legislation will have a significant financial effect.

“Cigarette sales is probably 20-25% of our total sales, and there really is no replacement for that type of revenue” said Castro.

“Literally I expect a drop in sales of about 20 or 25 percent, instantly.”

CUSA’s cigarette sales for the 2014-2015 school year were estimated at $53,000 in profit. As the legislation is only in effect for one of the three semesters, a profit-loss of approximately a third, or $17,666, could be predicted for CUSA.

Students forced to search off campus for a pack of smokes. 

New provincial legislation is going to make buying a package of cigarettes more different for students at Carleton University.
New provincial legislation is going to make buying a package of cigarettes more different for students at Carleton University.

Other institutions in Ontario have already implemented bans on the sale of tobacco products and even smoking on campuses, some leading up to the expected regulations.

“We’ve definitely been preparing for it,” said CUSA President Folarin Odunayo. “There were discussions when we first heard about the law coming about, and other situations on campuses across the country.”

But unlike other campuses, Odunayo and CUSA chose not to make a decision for the Carleton community.

“We can certainly encourage students to not smoke and inform and educate students about the health hazards of smoking, but I don’t really think it is in our position to ban things from the campus,” said Odunayo.

He said CUSA “can only provide the information, students are mature enough to make decisions on their own.”

CUSA welcomes initiatives onto campus to educate students about the hazards of smoking, like Leave The Pack Behind, a youth-oriented tobacco control program that has had a presence on campus throughout the fall.

International student Ivana Kolkovic came to Carleton from Serbia, and as a smoker says she is against the new regulations.

“I just feel that there are so many other things that are as dangerous as smoking,” said Kolkovic.

She says it is a personal choice whether or not to smoke.

“There are many issues around it,” she said. “People think that you smoke because you cannot cope with your problems and things like that, but I think that things are more complex.”

Odunayo says that unlike other Ottawa campuses that have more strict rules around smoking, CUSA didn’t feel that it was in any position to restrict students.

“You’ve got to ask yourself, is CUSA in the position to ban anything from campus?” he said. “We only have to provide a safe environment.”

Cassandra Leblonde, a second year English major who lives off campus, said she doesn’t know if she’d walk from campus to Bank Street to pick up a pack.

“Depends how much I wanted some smokes,” she said. “It’s a pretty big addiction.”


Facts and Figures about Tobacco on campus.
Facts and Figures about Tobacco on campus.

facts sourced from:

A 2004 study by Physicians for a Smoke Free Canada and a 2006 report by the University of Waterloo.

The Simple Solution to Sexual Assault.

Anne-Marie Roy, president of the University of Ottawa’s Student Federation (SFUO), is sending out a clear message to students:

“Don’t rape”.

As post-secondary students head back to school, safety becomes a top priority. A growing concern regarding safety is the ‘epidemic of rape culture’ on campus.

Roy, a leader in the SFUO since 2013, has seen the school through multiple cases of sexual assault. Roy herself was a victim of sexual harassment last year, when a leaked Facebook message revealed sexual threats from male students.

In February of 2014 two University of Ottawa men’s hockey players were accused of sexually assaulting a young woman in Thunder Bay while away for a game. The two men are set to face charges in court, and the male hockey team is suspended for the 2014-2015 school year.

The controversial suspension is a serious move on the part of the university to stand against sexual violence, but “there is more work that needs to be done,” says Roy.

“University and college campuses are a reflection of what our society actually is. I think that the University of Ottawa, and all other universities, do need to show a bit more leadership in terms of tackling this issue,” she says.

A problem with the modern response to rape culture is the tendency to ‘victim-blame’; when services and programs to prevent sexual assault focus on arming potential victims with self-defense and preventative skills.

“We all know that, despite all of our efforts,” says Roy, “unfortunately it still happens.”

Roy wants to move forward with a message of responsibility and awareness, moving away from ‘victim-blaming’ towards “teaching what I think is a very good lesson – Don’t rape,” she says.

There is no one program or service in place to fight campus rape culture across Canada. But Roy stresses the importance of working with each community.

“I think that having a uniform approach in fighting rape culture is not effective,” she says. “The challenges that we see are not the same for students engaging in different activities across campus.”

For the SFUO this resulted in the formation of a task force against rape culture on campus, established in early 2014.

The aim is to ask, “what is the culture within particular spaces on campus, to come up with a tailored approach to tackle rape culture in each of these spaces” Roy explains.

In the meantime, her message to incoming and returning students about sexual violence is very simple.

“Just don’t do it,” she says.

Frats are friends, not (just) fools.

I just finished reading a recent article by Julia Ryan in The Atlantic.

“How Colleges Could Get Rid of Fraternities” looks at the various ways academic institutions can and can’t get rid of male Greek life on campuses across North America, and as Ryan says, “It’s not that easy to banish the Greeks.”

Ryan brings up concern about fraternity’s seemingly innate ability to “create environments that seem to breed hazing, binge drinking, and sexual assault.”

While this may be very true, this also sounds like almost any group of college age guys. As a girl who had the (un)fortunate experience to live on a self-titled ‘Party Floor’ in my first year of University, I have to say that the more minor of these activities -and I do include light hazing in that, as anyone who has been involved in a prank war will understand- can be applied to the guys (and girls) from my floor.

College is the primary opportunity for young guys -and girls- to get together and find themselves without the guidance and parental discretion that many of us feel at home. Despite drinking ages that are certainly higher than the age of many freshmen, namely 21 in the U.S. and 19 in Canada, alcohol is commonplace. Almost everyone has at least one night of their university or college career that they can barely recall. Or, if they can, they can barely recall it without grimacing at the though of too much tequila/whiskey/pick your poison.

This environment breeds foolish mistakes and indulgent behaviour, and the lack of parents and family ties means that students look for a natural way to connect with each other. In many cases this results in connections as ‘floor families’ or finding friendship in clubs, but for some it lies in the Greek community.

This connection is essential to anyone moving away from home, or to anyone entering the post-secondary community. It can seem big and strange, but to find oneself in a group you feel comfortable can make or break the experience.

The issue with the activities of fraternities lies not in the evil-nature of the guys who join these exclusive groups, but the sheer number of guys in a single ‘frat’. By bringing together that many guys who are all doing what everyone else is at that age -drinking way too much and looking for a good time- mob mentality takes over and incidents occur. The chance of incidents in a group is increased every time you bring someone else into it, and having that many guys in one house with alcohol is a breeding ground for poor decisions.

I am not in any way saying that this makes sexual assault, bullying, hazing or any other negative activity associated with fraternities okay. Stupidity in groups is not justification for stupidity as an act. There is no excuse for carrying out these activities in any form.

That being said, these events do happen and are especially prevalent on campuses. They occur more often in groups, and fraternities seem to be the major culprit. The problem is that people find it easier to point fingers to people that are officially grouped and designated as such, when such crimes and acts are done by many groups outside that aren’t recognized by an academic institution.

Fraternities, being subject to rules and provisions that govern all university-associated clubs and bodies, are a group that can be singled out and used as examples. Pointing instead at a group of guys that wander around campus and do the same doesn’t have the same effect. We can thank movies and TV shows for the gravity that comes with saying a fraternity broke the rules, they have a negative connotation. Other random groups of male students aren’t as widely recognized, and don’t have ‘rules’ to break.

Take for example the recent charges laid against members of the University of Ottawa’s varsity men’s hockey team. The entire team was suspended and a group of players were believed to be involved in a sexual assault. Ashley Bowen, staff at the Draft Pub at Lakehead University said the young men were “like a family.”

Like… brothers?

The team is a body governed by the university, and it is much easier to say the university’s hockey team, than ‘a group of Ottawa students’. The shock that comes with attributing a crime to a school-associated group is hard to beat, but in reality these are just groups of guys doing stupid things together.

Greek life is not the problem. I know many people that are involved in the Pan-Hellenic community here at Carleton University, and they are all fantastic people. Fraternities and sororities offer opportunities for individuals to establish a family away from home, and to get involved with charities and activities in school and out.

Any group of people is capable of committing harm against one another, and the diffusion of responsibility only makes it easier in larger numbers.

The argument should not be how colleges should get rid of fraternities, but how they should be regulated and how the activities that are deemed problematic should be stopped. All it takes is one bad egg to spoil the dozen, and in the case of a fraternity, all too often is the exceptionable individual taken to be the rule. Ryan looks at this too in the article, and brings up some ideas of how fraternities can be ‘taken care of’.

Some are a bit extreme, but many of which would be great ways to ensure that the power of fraternities and the so-called ‘brotherhood’ is used for good and not bad.

I’m not saying I have an answer or that there is a definitive answer, I’m just saying that there’s much more to brotherhood that booze and boobs.

Maybe we should instead try to combat the problems of binge-drinking and sexual assault on campuses as a whole. Manage the environment, not the groups produced by the environment, could actually make campuses safer and better places for students and faculty alike. Who knows, the Greeks may even help.