Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Shiney James is a symptom — not the cause

Allegations of systemic abuse perpetrated by Orientation Director Shiney James came out Monday, leading to an avalanche of comments and responses on Twitter of other students sharing their experiences of abuse as orientation staff. 

James is said to have created a toxic working environment in which she was reported to have verbally berated certain student workers to the point of tears and repeatedly subjected them to invasive questions about their personal lives. Many people who worked under James described the long-term psychological damage they carry from their time working as Orientation leaders.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

The Boston University administration should fire James. She is personally responsible for hurting the health and mental well-being of many students, as well as potentially their careers.

But she is just the tip of the iceberg.

It should be acknowledged that James represents a larger harmful system at play in the University’s relationship to its student employees.

First, student workers are especially vulnerable within the university system. For many, their employment at BU may be their first job. Students may be unaware of their rights as workers or may feel uncomfortable speaking out against poor conditions. This leaves them practically defenseless to exploitation and abuse.

Moreover, the current student employment structure forces students to depend on their employers for more than just a paycheck. For instance, for some campus jobs, students working during the summer rely on their employment for free housing. Students working during the Fall rely on their University employment to receive their full work-study grant. This means that a student not only risks losing their source of income, but also their housing and their access to education if they report an abuse of authority.

In addition, BU heavily discourages student workers from unionizing, even though students are legally allowed to, framing  student workers’ right to strike as disruptive to students’ “academic progress.”

But wouldn’t exploitative working conditions be just as disruptive to the academic process?

There are simply not enough protections in place for student workers. From students alleging underpaid training periods to the Orientation office allegedly editing students’ work hours to pay them less, the university student worker system is rife with exploitation and abuse of power.

This is not to say that BU as an employer is unique in its exploitation of its workers. Much has been written about the realities of capitalism and the state of employment in America. It’s just that, as a nonprofit and as a university, it is especially disheartening to see this kind of abuse in a place that calls itself a site of learning and innovation.

Second, the sheer amount of students alleging abuse from James — as well as multiple allegations from students that state they formally complained to the University about this abuse — indicate James’ systemic abuse of her employees was an open secret.

We understand that firing someone must be a bureaucratic nightmare. But it’s well past the point to ask why exactly it is so hard to fire someone who harms students. Why is it so difficult to fire abusers?

At the end of the day, we, as students, are all paying for Shiney James to work here. That in itself should be reason enough for her dismissal given all that she has allegedly done to students. And BU’s action on this front, if they choose to protect Orientation student workers, cannot end here.

It is fair to say — from the deluge of responses to the allegations against James — there are very likely many like James across campus. This is not an issue that can be boiled down to one person, and BU should not treat it in this way.

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  1. Thank you for this editorial –this is what made me so angry to read that initial article. The fact that there were so any allegations & corroborations of the same story of abuse for over a DECADE just made me think that this has to be a systemic thing. And it is. As a freshman, I never knew that behind those smiling faces & were (& are) this whole system of subservience & silence just to get the basic necessity of housing or have strong recommendations/standing for future job pursuits… it’s sick. We can do SO MUCH better than this. Not the impression to leave on a freshman POC… BU has so much work to do in terms of promoting healthier & more sustainable work environments & actually living up to their word with their boastful selves.

  2. Editors, thank you for writing this. Truly, your next piece should be on the Dean of Students Office, specifically focusing on of John Battaglino, Dan Solworth, and Kenneth Elmore and their quite frankly disgusting, inappropriate, and/or predatory actions and behaviors.

    –John Battaglino constantly flirted/flirts with / made passes at female-identifying students and staff.
    –Dan Solworth has inappropriately bought students drinks / handed off drink tickets to underage students at student events, and have inappropriately messaged and even gone on dates with incoming / current undergraduate students at the university. It is absolutely mind-boggling to see how he even could have gotten his current position as the Vice Chancellor of WELLNESS AND STUDENT SUCCESS when he himself abuses his position of power to gain inappropriate access to students.
    –And please don’t get me started on Kenneth Elmore. He also provides underage access to alcohol to students at various student events, has made female-identifying students feel wildly uncomfortable, and I know that he has followed several students home from bars such as Cornwall’s or TITS.

    The entire senior administrative team at Boston University which surrounds itself and deems itself responsible for student affairs needs to go. It is blatantly clear that they do not care at all about the well-being of our students by constantly placing them in positions of exploitation and abuse.

  3. Great article. Kenn Elmore has supervised Shiney for the ENTIRETY of her tenure at Orientation. A crucial part of his job is looking out for the wellbeing of students at BU. He has either willingly looked the other way or has failed in his responsibility. Either way he needs to go.

  4. Student Workers Should Unionize

    Thank you for this editorial. I experienced a similar work environment to what was described in the article when I worked for ResLife, and I’ve heard countless stories from peers who have worked with other departments in the university. BU needs to stop protecting abusive supervisors and take a long hard look at the toxic labor conditions it forces student workers into.

  5. BU Alums say N.O.P.E. until students are protected

    Thank you for this editorial. The number of allegations directed at staff throughout the Division of Student Life spanning more than a decade is deeply concerning. This issue clearly goes beyond one person and one office. Alumni should ensure Boston University takes real action to address toxic student work environments by saying N.O.P.E. (Not One Penny Ever) and withhold donations until we have confidence the culture that allowed this to occur is addressed. It took real courage for these students to speak up and this is the least we can do.

  6. George Mackinsack

    So far, the only acknowledgment from BU Today that this story even exists at all is an announcement that they’re hiring an outside firm to investigate. But until they had that statement from the Administration to report, BU Today pretended this story doesn’t even exist. And the official statement is all they reported. Did they ask any questions of senior administrators? Nope.

    Oh, and they’re not allowing comments on the article.

    And they shut down comments on an older article praising how awesome Ms. James supposedly is.

    And still not a single mainstream local media outlet has reported this story. That’s incredible. BU is one of the biggest employers in Boston and yet as far as the Boston Globe, WBUR, Channel 4, and all the rest are concerned, this story doesn’t exist. Someone has called in some favors to keep this quiet.