The don of a new era

Image by: Katharine Sung

Queen’s dons should take the opportunity to unionize and run with it.

The decision to unionize went to a vote for Queen’s dons this week. Rather than earning a salary, dons are compensated with campus housing and meal plans, but the students who hold these positions feel important changes are overdue. 

Most students have a limited understanding of the scope of don responsibilities. 

They’re the first point of contact for students experiencing mental health crises and the first set of ears listening to reports of sexual violence. 

With the conditions dons are working in and student needs growing more complex by the year, it’s not a matter of if there’ll be a crisis, but when. The way Residence Life (ResLife) and Queen’s treat dons is out of proportion with the labour they perform. 

Their work is the equivalent of some full-time jobs—and they do it on top of studying full time. Dons are superheroes, but just because they can fulfill the responsibilities of two or three employees doesn’t mean they should have to. 

Many students choose to work as dons because they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to go to Queen’s, which translates to a lack of bargaining power with ResLife. This puts them in a vulnerable position where getting fired can mean losing their home in the middle of the school year with no hope of finding alternative housing. 

The knowledge that many dons don’t have another option allows ResLife to overload them with responsibilities. Lots of dons love what they do, but it’s a demanding job and they deserve the support and bargaining power a union can provide. 

Officially, dons aren’t allowed to engage in extracurriculars of any kind over 10 hours per week, including part time jobs. This rule makes it difficult to connect with peers casually, engage in the University community like other students, or earn money throughout the year. 

Another issue dons have raised is unequal renumeration across residences. 

Dons living and working in single plus residences are compensated no differently than those in the oldest residences with the smallest rooms, most student mischief, and no TV included. The living standard is not the same in Victoria Hall as it is in Brant. Dons in lower-value buildings should be paid the difference between the value of a single-plus room and the one they’re assigned. 

Currently there’s a lack of active mental health crisis training that would prepare dons to respond to suicide attempts and other high-stakes situations. Dons shouldn’t have to support the mental health of an entire floor of students, but if they do, they should at least be better trained.

Queen’s should ensure accommodations are available and accessible for dons when the job inevitably affects their ability to complete schoolwork. With the mental toll it takes to respond to the things dons respond to, we’re doing them and their first years a huge disservice if they can’t access resources or at the very least get accommodations. 

We need to address shortcomings in other services that cause dons to have to pick up the slack, particularly mental health and sexual violence response resources. 

Let’s start by rethinking the structure of residence management and redistributing responsibilities fairly. Going forward, contracts must explicitly outline job requirements and dons should only be expected to fulfill their contractual obligations. 

The University claims to care about Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Indigeneity (EDII), but overloads dons who have to accept these burdens to stay in school, a disproportionate amount of them belonging to marginalized communities. 

Few dons are asking for more pay per hour. They just want better working conditions and compensation that factors in their building assignments. 

Dons aren’t asking for much, and they deserve more respect. 

—Journal Editorial Board


dons, Residence, Residence Life, union

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