Every university, whether it is an Ivy League or state college, has programs which serve to help students with their everyday lives, from stress management to school-work related services. UPRM is no exception.
Recently, the Bilingual Writing Center suffered from budget cuts which forced it to shorten its operating hours, and obligated tutors to work less hours and with a lower salary. Amid the situation, the BWC and its tutors launched a campaign on Facebook demanding recognition for their labor and pleading the administration to re-establish the hours that got slashed due to budget cuts. To make matters worse, this situation escalated weeks before the first job fair of the academic year, usually the busiest week at the BWC.
The BWC is a free resource used by many students, faculty members, and the university community in general for various purposes. This center is divided as the English Writing Center and the Centro de Redacción en Español, also known as the CRE. The BWC provides services for a variety of needs, from helping develop professional cover letters, to fixing résumés, and practicing verbal skills with speaking logs. Meanwhile, though it also caters those needs, the CRE speacializes in outreach programs and mentorship, mainly its Short Narrative and Media Writing workshops. Both centers are student-based, proudly run by students for students. Most people have the idea that because the EWC and CRE are mostly used for English and Spanish courses, that the centers are a “proyecto chardonita,” which is not true at all: both centers employ students from many departments of the university and almost every faculty.
Dr. Jocelyn Géliga Vargas, an English professor and the coordinator of the English Writing Center, explained that not only does the EWC help students with their course essays, but that 90% of the EWC’s services are used to give students tutoring for everything curricular and extracurricular, such as CVs, résumés, cover letters, and more. The EWC also coordinates workshops around campus for the whole community to enjoy.
Dr. Géliga expressed she felt “demoralized” about the whole situation because every day, she and the students who work at the BWC heard different stories about the status of the budget, and were uncertain about the outcome the situation could bring the BWC. During that four-week period, they were forced to reduce working hours not only for the center, but for the tutors too. Instead of having the original schedule of 8:00am to 4:30pm, they only operated from 8:30am to 4:00pm, an hour that made a huge difference in the way the center ran.
The result was chaotic. Every day, by the time tutors arrived to the center, there were already nearly twenty people waiting. They would have to turn down dozens of students because new schedule just wasn’t enough to serve everybody. Often, the students who stayed, would have to wait for more than two hours.
The situation quickly took another ugly turn: on September 14, the day the BWC’s tutors were supposed to get paid, not a single one of them received any payment. Later, on September 28, the date of their following payment, only a few of them received their paycheck. For one EWC tutor, Claudia Irizarry Aponte, the non-payment added “insult to injury” to a situation that was already disheartening. When asked how she felt when she received the news of the budget cuts, Dr. Géliga said she was “not surprised, but at the same time resentful and unhappy.”
Mildred Vargas, an English major who has been working at the EWC for the last two years and serves as the coordinator assistant of the EWC, said that the last four weeks have been extremely frustrating for her. “I wanted to help everyone at the center, but I couldn’t. There were simply too many students,” she said, angry and frustrated. Kelsins Santos, an English Education graduate student who has worked at the EWC for the last five years, felt “underappreciated, frustrated and angry” for the treatment the tutors were receiving. Nevertheless, he was not surprised: “this is not the first time that this situation has happened.” For the last two months, including the summer, he and Mildred were working without getting paid. There were moments when, in light of the injustice, he didn’t feel like working. However, he kept going day after day because he loves to tutor.
This also happened to the tutors of the CRE. Zulynés Avilés is a Hispanic Studies graduate student who has worked at the CRE for three years, and Adriana Hernández is a fourth year Hispanic Students and Art Theory student who has worked there for the past year. For them and the rest of the tutors of the CRE, the situation has been frustrating and made them feel unstable: they simply didn’t know if they were going to keep operating. Just like Mildred and Kelsins, Zulynés and Adriana worked for two whole months without pay. When asked the question of how this situation affected old and new students, both of them agreed that it affected everyone massively. “Indeed, this center helps all the students, without exception, not only academically, but professionally,” said Zulynés.
Thankfully, the budget has been restored for both centers through the end of the academic year, though some of the tutors still haven’t received their paychecks. Hopefully the Centers won’t go through this situation again, but unfortunately only time will tell. In the end, the people of the BWC are those who will be there to help UPRM’s students in every aspect they can.
All images courtesy of the English Writing Center.