Campus tour guides at the University of Maryland sent a letter to university administration Wednesday demanding monetary compensation for their work.

Currently, tour guides are not paid for participating in Maryland Images, the student-run organization that provides campus tours at this university. Maryland Images members are demanding to be paid university minimum wage, which is currently $15 an hour.

In their letter, the group also demanded that the university retain all of its current tour guide positions after implementing the proposed pay structure.

The letter, signed by 12 Maryland Images tour guides and backed by 90 other group members, said tour guides will not participate in tour offerings starting March 8 if university administrators do not meet with them to address their demands by March 7.

The potential strike comes amid a bustling tour season at this university. Several admitted student events are scheduled for the next two months, including Next Stop Maryland sessions for newly admitted students on March 8 and three admitted student open houses. The organization anticipates that thousands of visitors will expect tours during these events, the letter read.

“When our guides keep showing up, and they keep doing the same thing unpaid, it kind of reinforces to the university that that’s fine, and doesn’t force them to look at what is wrong with it and change something,” Hannah Wahlberg, Maryland Images’ tours coordinator, said. “Doing this in a very busy time for the school … we also see how valuable that is to the school and really need to get their attention.”

Students who work in other admissions-related positions at this university, such as student leaders in visitor services, are paid an hourly wage, according to Wahlberg, a senior communication major.

Students in leadership positions for Maryland Images receive a stipend for their work, which is often similar to the responsibilities of other admissions student employees, Wahlberg said. But Maryland Images tour guides who are not on the organization’s leadership team are not paid, she added.

In a letter obtained by The Diamondback, Shannon Gundy, this university’s assistant vice president for enrollment management, told tour guides that senior leaders in the undergraduate admissions office will meet with Maryland Images on March 4.

“We have welcomed these conversations in past years and have remained open to a changing model, which could include a shift from a volunteer student organization to student-employee relationship,” Gundy wrote in the letter.

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This is not Maryland Images’ first effort to receive pay from this university, according to the organization’s members.

Ray Ash, a senior cell biology and molecular genetics major, said Maryland Images has brought up conversations about pay for its members “three or four times in the past.” The group’s most recent attempt was right before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“This is the most recent attempt in a long line of attempts,” Ash said. “The potential work stoppage would do a better job, we hope, of getting their attention.”

Lindsey Parker, a senior majoring in economics and environmental science and policy and Maryland Images’ operations coordinator, said this university is the only school in the Big Ten conference that does not pay its tour guides.

Maryland Images gathered “extremely positive feedback” when discussing its demands with five other Big Ten schools, according to the letter.

“Universities cited benefits such as increased dependability and accountability, more control over tour quality, greater satisfaction in their own respective roles, and more student interest in the role overall,” the letter read.

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The lack of pay for tour guides has also led to some student groups being underrepresented in Maryland Images, Parker said.

Demographic data compiled by the organization shows that in fall 2023, nearly 57 percent of Maryland Images applicants were white. In contrast, 39.5 percent of this university’s undergraduate student body was white as of fall 2023.

Students from certain underrepresented backgrounds can’t make the time commitment for Maryland Images — which amounts to a minimum of about five tours per semester — Parker explained, because they pursue paid opportunities to support themselves.

“Our organization is really not representative of the demographics of the university,” Parker said. “Despite conscious efforts to reach out to different communities on campus that aren’t represented in our organization, we haven’t been able to make that change in the past two years and so that’s definitely another big motivation for getting paid.”

For some tour guides, such as junior public policy major Ethan Simon, the lack of pay has meant finding other ways to cover expenses. This semester, Simon works a paid internship for 16 hours a week which he must juggle with his tour guide commitments.

During recruiting events for potential Images tour guides, many students have walked away after finding out the opportunity is unpaid, Simon said.

For Simon, Maryland Images’ push for pay is an attempt to highlight the importance of the group’s work and create opportunities for more students to participate, he said.

“We’re a phenomenal group of people who, every time we give a tour, we put everything into that tour,” Simon said. “I think that what the letter can hope to provide is that we as tour guides can hope to get a seat at the table both figuratively and literally.”