Tour guides ask for changes to program

by Zachary Benjamin | 7/20/17 8:40pm

Members of the admissions office met with tour guides on July 12 to discuss issues that guides have raised with the office’s policies for their jobs, including payment, tour scheduling and inauthenticity in the tour script.

One issue that came up during the meeting was payment. Multiple tour guides have expressed dissatisfaction with their pay scale, particularly because of how it compares with other jobs on campus. The entry-level salary for new tour guides is $7.75 an hour, which increases to $8 an hour after 10 tours. After 35 tours, the rate is $9 an hour, and after 70 tours it is $10 an hour.

Other jobs on campus earn higher rates. Research and information desk student assistants in Baker-Berry Library, for example, make $8.25 an hour, while test and exam readers earn $10 an hour. In the admissions office, videographers make $9 to $10 an hour and admissions bloggers make $8.50 to $9.50 an hour.

$7.75 is the lowest hourly wage rate that the College recommends for its employees, following a rubric that analyzes the skills required for a job and the amount of responsibility it entails, among other factors. The current minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25.

Rachel Kesler ’19, a current tour guide, believes that the current wage undervalues the work that tour guides put into their jobs and disincentivizes them from taking on higher loads. She thinks that the wage should be raised to a $10 starting salary, with further incremental increases down the road. This would encourage students to keep on working as tour guides and would help ensure that they are financially able to prioritize their tour guiding work over other, higher-paying campus jobs.

Kesler said regular decision applications are down in general, and that she thinks that tour guides should be the first line of defense in trying to get applications up.

The Dartmouth obtained minutes from a meeting between several tour guides and admissions officer Jade McLaughlin ’17. According to the meeting’s minutes, the admissions office has been conducting a review of the pay scale since the 2017 winter term. At the latest, the office will implement a new scale by the beginning of the fall 2017 term, and possibly by the end of the summer.

Director of admissions Paul Sunde said that until a few years ago, admissions tour guides were volunteers and did not receive payment for their work. The ongoing broad review of tour guide practices is the first such review to take place since the job became a paying one. He declined to give a specific amount for the upcoming pay raise, though he said that the office was taking into account pay rates for other jobs in the admissions office and on campus.

“We certainly want to be competitive,” he said.

Kesler expressed dissatisfaction at the timing of the pay raise. The summer is one of the busiest terms, which means that tour guides are likely to be giving more tours than at other points in their college careers. Raising the pay only after this period of increased activity is unfair, she said.

The increased number of responsibilities of the summer term, and the obligations this places on tour guides, was another point of disagreement. This summer, the admissions office adopted a new schedule with four blocks of tours each day, rather than the normal two. This was done to keep tour groups at more manageable sizes, Sunde said. As a result, tour guides were required to give at least two tours a week. Kesler said that a more typical number of tours per week during the rest of the year is one to two.

According to Sunde, this new schedule is only a pilot, and will not necessarily be adopted for future terms. The admissions office will take into account the results of the summer and the feedback it receives from tour guides when scheduling future tours. Next summer’s schedule will likely be posted by next spring, he said.

“I think we have to look at the needs of our visitors on the one hand, and our capacity to provide the best possible visitor experience on the other,” he said.

Kesler took issue with the required two tours per term, given the current low wage of the job, as it prevents tour guides from being able to spend their time working at more profitable jobs. Increasing the position’s wage would incentivize more people to take extra shifts, eliminating the need for required service, she said.

In the meeting’s minutes, McLaughlin, a former tour guide, wrote that requiring a minimum number of shifts is something that should never occur, and that the office does not intend to impose such a requirement again.

Another issue that came up during the meeting was the tour guide script. Multiple students complained that they feel they cannot express their true feelings about campus. Kesler, for example, said she often feels tokenized to speak about her experiences as a Native American student on campus. She also said that the admissions office has pressured tour guides to say that they feel safe on campus, even though she and other women of color often do not.

Last spring, Kesler, Michael Harteveldt ’19 and Anisha Ariff ’19, who are also tour guides, helped to rewrite a portion of the script that discussed Dartmouth’s history with Native American students. The previous script had not adequately discussed Dartmouth’s history of attempting to religiously convert Native Americans, and the racial undertones of the “education,” Harteveldt said. Kesler added that it was misleading in how it portrayed the situation for Native American students today. For example, it claimed that the College has a Native American department, when in fact it only has a Native American program, she said.

Though the changes were emailed to tour guides, Kesler and Harteveldt said they are not sure how widely they have been adopted, as the official tour guide manual is only revised once a year, in the spring.

Harteveldt also expressed that he feels unable to discuss Greek life at Dartmouth during tours due to administrative pressure. He cited as an example that tour guides are told to provide tour groups with the number of students affiliated with Greek life, even though this includes freshmen who are ineligible to rush, rather than telling them the number of eligible students involved with Greek life.

With regard to the number of students involved with Greek life, Sunde said that the College is typically asked to include freshmen in their calculations when surveyed by national organizations about Greek life, and that the admissions tour guides are encouraged to use this number to maintain consistency. If visitors have more questions, they are welcome to ask them, he said. He added that most people would be able to tell that Dartmouth has a large Greek community even when freshmen are included in the number of affiliated students.

Sunde said that it is normal for the script to evolve from year to year. Regarding tour guides feeling uncomfortable discussing Greek life, he said that while the experiences of individual tour guides are important and should be included on tours, it is also important to discuss the experiences of the campus as a whole.

“l think the student experience here is something that we want to reflect,” he said. “I think I’ve consistently said, I’ve used words like genuine, authentic ... In my mind, that’s the bedrock of any communication that we’re going to do.”

However, Kesler took issue with calling the script honest to the spirit of Dartmouth.

“I think that’s something [the admissions office] like[s] to say, but I think that ultimately, it’s not honest to Dartmouth’s experience, but rather the image that the College would like to put forward,” she said.