Student Employment During the Pandemic

By Elise Donovan ’22, Ruby Auman ’22

Photo Editor, Staff Writer

March 7, 2021


Since its onset last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of student employment at HWS. Students who used to work at the college store, Au Bon Pain, and Winn-Seeley Gym, among others, had their hours cut entirely. At the same time, other student employees have been given more responsibilities in response to COVID-19 regulations.

Judy Wentzel, Director of the Bristol Field House, noted that student employment has been affected in the wake of new campus and state regulations. “We hired less student staff than in past semesters to mitigate risk and increase the quality of our services,” she said. “We also restructured our student staff training sessions for the fall and spring semesters. Both sessions were heavily focused on educating student staff on the changes of our programs and services. and the importance of leadership to ensure the health & safety of the HWS community.”

Many student employees find themselves tasked with upholding COVID-19 regulations on top of their regular job duties. Even when enforcing such regulations is not included in students’ official job descriptions, students may feel compelled to do so anyway. This has been true for Grace Mongeau ’22, who works as an O’Laughlin Ambassador and gives tours for Admissions.

Mongeau says that she “failed in her role” when she neglected to reinform a prospective student’s father of the mask mandate when he purposefully removed his mask upon entering a campus building during one of her weekly tours. “It freaked me out,” she said. “Despite having every right and probably obligation to tell him to put his mask back on, it felt awkward.”

Mongeau feels burdened in her position as a COVID-19 policy enforcer, despite safety measures put in place by COVID-19 questionnaires, temperature readings, contact tracing sign-ins, and constant sanitization. Due to the nature of interactions between tour guides and families, Mongeau does not feel that she has much of an ability to enforce guidelines, especially those related to social distancing.

Another student working as a Teaching Fellow at the Center for Teaching and Learning shared a similar burden, noting that she feels “uncomfortable” when she notices maskless students taking advantage of her workspace.

“We use a public room, and people who use the room for other purposes, not Teaching Fellow hours, tend to not use masks, that makes me really uncomfortable,” she explained. “But it’s not totally related to my job, so I feel like I can’t say anything.”

The recent campus pause in response to rising numbers of COVID-19 cases only exacerbated the barriers to success that student employees face. In an email to the campus community on Feb. 5, 2021, President Jacobsen noted that “In consultation with their supervisors, students can work at their on-campus jobs and continue research activities.” Many employers decided to use their discretion to help student workers.

Wentzel gave students the ability to continue to get hours both in person and remotely during the pause. Such opportunities included helping with “department development projects, creating promotional pieces for the HWS Rec Instagram page, and assisting with thoroughly cleaning all of our fitness spaces and equipment.”

Despite campus employers like Wentzel who attempt to provide student employees with support during this time of so much change, students still feel burdened by having to shift their schedules to accommodate changing regulations and new expectations for their positions.

A student worker in equipment management at the Winn-Seeley Gym felt “annoyed” by the difficulty in finding a routine because of the irregularity and disruption caused by COVID-19. “We are three weeks into classes and I’m just now aware of my full schedule,” the student said.

The student also lamented the inconsistency in their pay as they find themselves spending more on groceries from Wegmans. This trend, which has everything to do with the shift in quality and availability of on-campus dining options, has left many students budgeting more for off-campus meals on top of their dining plan, as well as looking for more hours to accommodate this lifestyle change.

As students struggle to find routine, work, and courage in their roles as student employees, it is clear that many of them feel overwhelmed by the need to constantly balance health, school, and making money.

In her email, Jacobsen claimed that “We [the Colleges] have so much to look forward to this semester…” For student workers having to deal with maskless families, unsafe workspaces, and shifting job expectations, hopefully that future looks like safer and more consistent employment opportunities.

Featured image by Ani Freedman.

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