Wheaton’s “Admissions Center,” as the Admissions Office used to be called, formed the Diakonoi group in 1976. No, they’re not “leftwing Greek radicals,” as The Record reporter Sue Woodcock reassured readers that October, but rather the new face of the college, a welcome program designed to serve prospective students and campus visitors. Forty years later, they have a more straightforward description: they’re campus tour guides.
Although it’s easy to dumb down the job description, Dekes are more than simple sophomore tour guides. The Dekes we spoke to used the word “ministry” to describe their jobs with the admissions office — and it’s been described that way since its nascency. “Diakonoi” — Greek for “disciples” or “servants” — gives a good idea of the type of expectations placed on Dekes’ shoulders.
“It’s really a ministry,” the first director of the Diakonoi, Hector Garcia said, using the buzzword for the first time in print back in the 1976 Record article.
Like some ministries — think worship or hospitality teams at church — Dekes aren’t paid. They don’t get free Wheaton swag either, although they do have those sharp Deke jackets. It’s a volunteer-based group, and it’s been that way since its inception. The Diakonoi Advisor Rachel Ehorn put it this way in a written statement: “Being a Deke has, since the beginning, been a completely voluntary role with no paycheck.”
In addition to their standard 75-minute weekly tour, Dekes also host up to three prospective students, or “connectors” a month, as well as organizing and hosting connection events, which happen twice a semester. During these events, the Dekes open their already crowded dorm rooms to these prospective students, befriending them and telling them everything they’d like to know about Wheaton through their words, and deeds. That’s an extra mile from what most tour guides at other colleges are paid to do.
Given their responsibilities and level of dedication, it’s not hard to imagine a future where they’re paid.
Junior Micah Bolden, an ex-Deke, who served during his sophomore year in Fischer, thinks that while the college is justified in keeping the role of campus tour guide a volunteer position, it would be appropriate to pay them.
“I gained a lot of really interesting skills, and a lot of really good friends ,” said Bolden. “That was enough for me. As an institution, would I say that a stipend would be appropriate? It definitely would.”
Sophomore Jake Wierenga serves as one of the male Dekes in Fischer, and is something like the de facto face of the Dekes this year — Ehorn said he’s one of their most outspoken, and he loves the Diakonoi.
He thinks the fact that the Dekes aren’t paid actually makes them more effective at their job. “It’s a great strength of the program that we aren’t paid. I’ve seen the impact it has on visitors as well. When visitors understand, and they get to learn these students are volunteering their time to share these still very genuine feelings about the school, it really does make more of an impact, because then it’s not our job, it’s not something we’re being paid to do. It’s a volunteer position.”
Maddie LaMear is a junior, who spent her sophomore year serving as a Deke. She is fine with working without a paycheck, but thinks the Dekes should receive more perks from the school: “While I don’t think Dekes should get paid (I think that might add an ulterior motive for applying), they should totally get some more free Wheaton gear. I mean, we’re the face of Wheaton College, right? I could have gone for a stuffed mastodon, too.”
Other colleges also choose to not pay their tour guides — it’s not a rare policy. But at some other Christian colleges, like North Park, Taylor and Grove City, tour guides are paid by the hour for their work.
Grove City tour guides juniors Bethany Wilson and Olivia Buirge both thought it was practical to pay tour guides. “I think that being a tour guide is more mentally demanding than a lot of other on-campus jobs, so I think that our payment is well-deserved,” Wilson said in an email interview. “If anything, it just provides additional motivation for us to do our jobs well.”
Buirge said the payment that tour guides receive reflected the responsibilities that the college placed on them — they’re the first ones prospective students see on campus. “You’re heavily involved and influential in getting students to choose Grove City,” she said.
For Taylor University sophomore Theresa Doiron, just because the college pays her doesn’t mean that she feels pressured to describe the university to prospective students through rose-colored lenses.
“I do get paid, but I feel like I can still state my opinion about the college,” Doiron said over a phone interview. “As a tour guide, yes, I talk about the facts of what Taylor is all about, but I talk about my experience and the negatives also.”
The day we talked, she had confided to a girl on her tour that she — being from metro Massachusetts — didn’t much appreciate the rural bleakness of the land surrounding Taylor’s campus.
So paying Dekes might not result in propaganda-spouting automata. And it doesn’t seem like the admissions office is necessarily opposed to the idea of paying Dekes. Ehorn mentioned she thought the Dekes deserve payment. But as she’s not in charge of the budget, she thinks the current system is working fine.
“I know I went on a couple campus tours where it was obvious to me that this person saw their role as a campus tour guide as only a job,” Ehorn said. “They had no real interest in getting to know me as a person. They were just doing their job, and once they were done, they checked it off their list and went about their day.”
So for every Theresa, who was unaffected by the effects of payment, there are some bad apples that fall from the tour guide tree.
Not paying Dekes actually acts as a sieve for the Admissions Office and ensures a certain type of tour guide. Those students looking to make an extra buck would need to search elsewhere.
“It brings people to the admissions office who are service-minded, who are willing and generous with their time, who want to serve Wheaton because they’re grateful for what Wheaton has given to them,” Ehorn said.