From dining halls to dormitories, campus is a lot quieter this semester. There is a notable absence of students working in the University cafeterias and cafes, at the help-desks in Olin and Usdan, and throughout the Center for the Fine Arts (CFA). Many students were unable to return to the jobs they have held in previous semesters, whether it be due to new safety measures or because their jobs no longer exist amid the pandemic.
Many students rely on their campus jobs for community, for stability, and most importantly, for an income; but the pandemic has left many students unemployed during a time when they need their jobs more than ever. To make matters worse, many job sites across the University, such as the Resource Center and academic departments, have experienced budget cuts and hiring restrictions as a result of the University’s budget cuts and the numerous safety protocols during COVID-19.
Taylin Hunter ’21, who has worked at Pi Cafe since her first year on campus, said she was not notified that she would not have a job with the University’s food service company Bon Appétit until several weeks into the semester. Hunter expressed frustration with the situation, explaining that her job loss left her without a steady income at the start of the semester.
“I understand Bon Appétit couldn’t have employed students in the same way, given COVID restrictions and needing to keep everyone safe in terms of not transmitting the disease, but they could have told us way sooner and provided the ability for these students to gain other employment opportunities,” Hunter said.
Hunter also spoke to the challenges she faces navigating a campus job market with limited job opportunities.
“If you’re trying to find a second job, or now a first job because your second job doesn’t exist anymore, [there] was not a lot of time for students to get other job opportunities because a lot of them fill up really fast at the beginning of the semester,” Hunter said. “And beyond that, it’s even harder for seniors to get jobs on campus because people want to employ students who will be around for multiple years so that they don’t have to be constantly retraining or have a lot of empty slots the next year that they just have to refill again.”
Resident District Manager for Bon Appétit Michael Strumpf said that Bon Appétit is trying to redistribute the food service work among the existing union staff in order to provide them with as many employment opportunities as possible.
“For health and safety reasons, the pandemic has required us to make changes in protocols regarding dining locations, the use of PPE, heightened sanitation, and training, all of which caused us to pause on engaging student employees,” Strumpf wrote in an email to The Argus. “Some of the changes to operations have caused increases in workloads, (like increased cleaning) while some changes (like the lack of events requiring catering services) have caused decreases in available work.”
However, Strumpf expressed a desire to bring students back to work in the kitchens of the dining facilities once this can be done safely.
“We hope to be able to engage student employees again soon, in a safe manner with proper training and protective equipment,” Strumpf wrote.
Kate Louderback ’21, who worked at Summerfields (Summies) and was formerly a House Manager for the Film Series, said she began looking for other campus jobs on Handshake over the summer just in case she would be unable to continue working at Summerfields.
“I think I looked in August and there were like four jobs on there, and three of them were summer jobs they just hadn’t taken off yet,” Louderback said.
While Louderback will not be able to work at Summies or the Film Series this semester, she was able to secure a Teaching Assistant (TA) position with a biology professor.
Not all students have been able to replace the jobs they have lost due to the pandemic or find suitable alternatives. For Erin Byrne ’24, the job hunt has been a huge source of stress.
“I need to make my work study amount to afford to go here,” Byrne, who has now been hired by the Center for the Arts as a Virtual Tour Guide Manager, said. “I’m still worried about it. When I go home, luckily I can do my job from where I live…. But because I got it so late (last week), I don’t have a lot of time. I have to work eleven hours a week in this job, but the job doesn’t actually require that much work per week, so now I’m trying to get another job that will fill the rest of my work-study allotment, which is really stressful.”
Like Bryne, many students are concerned about not being able to fulfill their entire work-study amount. Others are concerned about not being able to make ends meet at all.
Ricardo Vega ’21 works at the Shapiro Writing Center and at the Resource Center, which recently had to cap student working hours to six hours per week. In pervious years, Vega worked twelve to fifteen hours a week at the Resource Center .
“I’m a senior now, so I should probably be thinking about post-grad,” Vega said. “In order to prepare for post-grad, you kind of need money….Also, I’m starting to have to help support my family at home a bit more because they’ve been impacted by the pandemic as well as by other personal family issues that are affecting us.”
Director of Financial Aid and member of the Office of Student Employment Robert Coughlin said the University has been working hard to help promote student employment during the pandemic.
“Senior administration made a concerted effort to encourage departments to think creatively about student employment opportunities in light of the pandemic,” Coughlin said. “Remote work options have been available for the vast majority of open positions this year. We do understand that many of the in-person jobs available prior to the pandemic have temporarily gone away but hope that the influx of these new, remote job opportunities are continuing to provide students with opportunities to work.”
The Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP) is one on-campus employer that is working to provide students with additional employment opportunities this semester.
“Because our off-campus positions are limited, we’ve committed to hiring students to work on campus supporting voter registration efforts,” Coordinator of Community Participation Rhea Drozdenko, JCCP Director and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Public Policy Clifton Watson, and JCCP Assistant Director Diana Martinez wrote in an email to The Argus.
However, despite these additional opportunities, the number of campus job opportunities remains low and many students have been overwhelmed by the loss of income.
For Hunter, the higher cost of the University’s Residential Comprehensive Fee (RCF) for juniors and seniors ($9,313 compared to $8,417 for underclassmen) has also made things more challenging.
“When you’re a senior, you do end up paying more for housing…and so it is the most expensive semester at Wesleyan that I’ve had so far,” Hunter said. “And not having a second job to balance that out is not fun.”
Alice Ghislane Musabe ’22, now works at the Science Library and the Resource Center, and is also a Resident Advisor (RA) for Writer’s Block. She explained that working at different jobs is more difficult than having a single job with multiple shifts.
“It’s kind of confusing working at multiple places because it takes more mental stability than just working at one place. If there wasn’t coronavirus, I guess I would have the RA job and one other job, but now I have two others to balance out the loss of income,” Musabe said.
The income loss coupled with looming uncertainty has proven to be a significant struggle for students this semester.
“As a first generation low-income student, it’s not great,” Vega said.“I depend on an income to support myself at Wesleyan. The fact that they took away so many jobs…just the uncertainty of whether or not I was going to have employment to begin with was difficult.”
Rachel Wachman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.