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Investigating the Unpaid Labour Behind Club Leadership

Sandrine Jacquot
Investigating the Unpaid Labour Behind Club Leadership

There are roughly 300 clubs here at Queen’s, each of them run by presidents, executives, directors, or other leaders of varying titles.

The impressive and diverse range of the clubs Queen’s has to offer is often an attractive feature for prospective students looking to embrace their passions or give back to the local community.

Clubs are valued not only for the fundraisers and events they hold, but also for the skills members learn along the way and carry with them into the world.

Much of this influence and impact is credited to those behind their operations. However, most club work isn’t paid; it’s viewed as extracurricular and voluntary work.

The Journal spoke to student club leaders across campus to investigate the work they put in to make the Queen’s extracurricular community so vibrant.

In an interview with The Journal, Brock Jekill, ArtSci ’23, president of Queen’s Players, said extracurriculars are a valuable way for students to find a safe space to explore their interests outside of academia, form a community by meeting like-minded people, and develop technical knowledge and skills that will serve their future careers.

Queen’s Players is an SNL-style, choreographed stand-up comedy performance for a live audience with a live band. They typically put on three shows per year where all proceeds go to charity. Last year, Players donated over $43,000.

Jekill’s role involves overseeing the board, coordinating logistics like venues and contracts, and overseeing recruitment. His job also entails making sure teams have the resources they need.

When speaking about his position’s time commitment, he said, as president, he’s the first point of contact for crises that could occur at any time.

“You’re kind of always on call,” Jekill said. “You don’t know when there’s going to be an emergency. You don’t know when you’re going to be needed, so, you try and balance it and stuff kind of goes askew.”

Although Jekill didn’t anticipate how much behind-the-scenes work his role entailed, he spoke highly of his experience. He sees Players as a unique way to bring people together and share their voices in a welcoming and positive environment.

When discussing financial compensation, Jekill said he personally wouldn’t ask for any, especially considering all their funds go to charity. However, he sees the benefits of non-financial forms of compensation.

Many students who join Players are drama students. The drama department allows students to get credits for being part of productions, but Players is specifically not allowed to be used as a credit.

“We have actually had people who had been offered positions have to turn them down after finding that out because [they] can’t manage the course load and do [Players],” Jekill said.

The club is trying to shift away from an excessively demanding culture, but Jekill would like to see increased recognition and support from the University and associated departments highlighting Players’ reach, hard work, and value.

“I already hear so many students who are like, ‘I really want to be doing this, but I just don’t have the time and or money to be doing it,’” Jekill said.

“It really sucks to think the demographic or population that [could] take on a leadership position is going to be altered because they’re not getting the support they need.”

Jasmine Hasmatali, ArtSci ’23, is the president of Queen’s International Affairs Association (QIAA). QIAA aims to educate and engage students in international affairs and politics through a variety of initiatives such as Model United Nations, Speaker Series, and International Development Week.

Hasmatali sees clubs as a space of belonging and community at Queen’s. To her, they’re a fulfilling way to improve your skills while reminding students there’s much more to university than academics.

Her role as president entails overseeing all of QIAA’s operations. Hasmatali has always been interested in leadership positions and saw running for QIAA President as the natural next step.

Hasmatali has a part-time job she balances with her studies and extracurriculars. When asked about how much time she devotes to QIAA, she said there have been weeks where she’s dedicated upwards of 15 hours.

“It’s not an insignificant amount of my time. […] The time I put towards what I’m doing for the club, is, I would say, valuable, and takes away from my studies and working,” Hasmatali said in an interview with The Journal.

To Hasmatali, this work is worth the smiles on her executives’ faces after running a successful event, like their recent outreach with refugee families in the Kingston area.

When asked if she feels appropriately recognized for her work, Hasmatali said she thinks club leaders need to be compensated for their time. She believes the University has normalized students contributing significant time and effort to their clubs without compensation, even if the reward is supposed to be networking or personal and professional development, she said.

“While [these skills and connections are valuable], that doesn’t excuse the fact that we are still putting in this effort and time to ultimately better the Queen’s community. I think that not being paid is a way for Queen’s to use [students] to their benefit without fully acknowledging the amount of work that they put into their clubs.”

Hasmatali wants to see more of a reciprocal relationship between clubs and the University. It doesn’t have to be in large sums of money, but she thinks it isn’t too much of an ask.

She believes clubs aren’t treated with as much value as they serve in the Queen’s community and she would like the AMS to do better on this.

“It’s not just my time, but it’s also my energy and my emotions that I invest, which I think is also something that’s not always accounted for,” Hasmatali said.

Despite the amount of work it takes, Hasmatali loves being the president of QIAA and doesn’t regret running for her position. She said she’d fulfill her role to the best of her ability regardless of whether she’s paid.

As co-presidents, Bryan Inibhunu, ArtSci ’23, and Daniel Deletsu, ArtSci ’23,  estimate they spend between five to 10 hours a week conducting team meetings, doing administrative work, and coordinating operations for Queen’s Black Premedical Association (QBPA).

QBPA aims to encourage and create a community for underrepresented minorities trying to get into the medical field. They host events like MCAT 101 to break down the big exam or give advice when applying to medical school.

Both Inibhunu and Deletsu have been on QBPA since their first years, so running for co-presidency felt like a natural progression. Neither had really considered compensation for their work.

“The way I see it is that what we do is for the community, so when I pivot it like that, I don’t feel a need for compensation,” Inibhunu said in an interview with The Journal.

They went into their roles to help others, so at the end of the day, they wouldn’t advocate for themselves to get paid. They’ve felt recognized by their members, their successful engagement, and the cross-club support on campus. But they said they could understand why compensation could be offered.

They believe when club work becomes compensated, there’s a risk people will step into their roles with money as the end goal instead of the same community-centred mindset.

“If compensation is involved in anything, it kind of changes the mentality that you have,” Inibhunu said.

If this is the case, Deletsu thinks there should be some level of accountability. Compensation may be viewed as more accessible and inclusive, but he and Inibhunu worry it will also change the applicants and their intentions.

Jadyn Kuah, ArtSci ’23, and Siena Margorian, ConEd ’24, both work part-time jobs and said they’d be able to give their co-presidency of Queen’s Backing Action on the Climate Crisis(link is external) (QBACC) more time and energy if their positions were compensated.

Kuah and Margorian support a 10-person leadership team, over 40 directors, and 100+ volunteers, along with a hefty budget. They do around 10 to 15 hours of club work weekly, with busy weeks sometimes hitting 20 hours.

“I want to make sure that I'm accessible to my [executives] at all times of the day. I'm always available to answer messages,” Margorian said in an interview with The Journal. “You don't quite understand until you're in that position. You have to juggle it all yourself.”

She said a lot of work goes into her presidency, but it’s something she’s happy to do.

Kuah believes many club leaders struggle to balance their mental health with their club work and other responsibilities. Though Kuah and Margorian are supported by each other and their team, they feel as if they’re operating on their own.

Kuah and Margorian said they have the support of the AMS in terms of funding, but recognize that because the AMS is also a student-run organization, they may not have the resources to provide more support to club leaders.

“We have to realize that being on a club as a volunteer is a privilege,” Margorian said. “As a student, time is limited [and] there are only so many positions that are paid.”

Kuah and Margorian knew what they were signing up for, but recognize it isn’t accessible to everyone. There are plenty of passionate students who don’t have the opportunity to do their type of work because they can’t put in that many hours without getting financial compensation.

“[This isn’t] to say that people can't be passionate enough about volunteer work, but I mean, people need money to survive,” Margorian said.

The two also spoke about the potential for compensation going forward. Given the number of clubs and current structure, they said it would be difficult to decide who gets compensation. They do see a way forward, but there needs to be effort devoted to a systematic rework.

As the director of clubs and conferences for the Engineering Society (EngSoc)(link is external), Victoria Palumbi, Engineering ’24, provides support for club presidents and leaders. She sees how much work club leaders do when managing large teams or running conferences.

Palumbi hopes to provide support to leaders when they’re feeling overwhelmed so they can do their job as best they can. Her position on EngSoc, along with other director roles, is voluntary.

While Palumbi noted a few resources in place through EngSoc, such as mental health resources or engineering review boards, she wants to see more supports implemented specifically for leaders of large clubs and more ways to show appreciation for club leaders’ work.

Palumbi sees compensation for club leaders from two sides.

“In an ideal world, I think it would be awesome if [leaders] were paid, because I see firsthand how much work they're doing […] Logistically, I think that would be a lot harder,” she said in an interview with The Journal.

EngSoc clubs receive funding from faculty and sponsorships, but only to run events.

In an interview with The Journal, AMS Clubs Commissioner Rob Hughes, ArtSci '22, spoke about the immense burden paying club leaders would place on the AMS clubs budget. Paying leaders of all 300 clubs the $500 yearly AMS honoraria would extend far beyond the current $70,000 budget for the Clubs Commission.

He said clubs don’t produce revenues, so it’s not something for which the Clubs Commission has the bandwidth. He said the AMS does offer different sponsorship and grant opportunities, as well as assistance for new clubs who are just setting up.

Hughes believes people who take on club positions generally do it for the love of their organizations.

Students can recognize the hard work of club members on campus through the AMS Club Awards(link is external), which recognize top executives, the club of the year, the event of the year, and the new club of the year.

Tags: clubs , AMS clubs , Labour , community

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca(link sends e-mail).