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How COVID-19 has impacted U.Va.’s student workers

Student workers share how they’ve been adjusting to new safety regulations for U.Va’s gyms, libraries and administrative facilities

<p>Amidst the gradual reopening of select University facilities and services, both in-person and remote student workers have faced challenges in adjusting to the new safety regulations.&nbsp;</p>

Amidst the gradual reopening of select University facilities and services, both in-person and remote student workers have faced challenges in adjusting to the new safety regulations. 

Following the University’s decision in March to move all courses online and cancel in-person meetings, dozens of student workers were forced to leave their jobs on-Grounds as the University shuttered facilities to comply with COVID-19 protocols. This semester, the University has started to gradually reopen facilities with new adjustments and safety regulations to maintain social distancing. For many student workers, this has put them in unprecedented circumstances.

While some students discontinued their jobs due to safety concerns, others have resorted to working remotely. Amidst the changes, both in-person and remote student workers have faced challenges in adjusting to the University’s new safety regulations. 

Although the University has been taking precautions, these safety regulations weren't enough for some students to feel comfortable resuming their job on Grounds. Fourth-year College student Hannah Park decided to discontinue her job at the on-Grounds libraries due to the uncertainty and the influx of students in the facility. 

“If students didn't take the regulations seriously, or if [the] coronavirus spread a lot across Grounds, I feel like that would also impact not only myself but my co-workers and others who come in,” Park said. “In the case that those possibilities do occur, I decided it was safer to just not start [working].”

The Charles L. Brown Science & Engineering Library requires workers to walk around the library frequently to check if students are wearing a mask or not, which was too much interaction for Park’s comfort. As a federal work-study student, Park felt as though losing her job because of her discomfort with these mandatory checks was unfair because working at the University was a part of her financial aid package. As she is struggling to find remote work-study jobs due to the limited options, she wishes the University would provide more remote options for work-study students who are not returning to Grounds, especially as failure to find a work-study job can result in additional financial obligations.

“I wish they made more remote jobs for work-study students just because I know not everyone is back on Grounds,” Park said. “Even if they were back on Grounds, they may not feel safe, and I don't think anyone should feel pressured to do something just for the sake of money when they feel unsafe in that environment.”

Additionally, Park was concerned about getting to and from her previous job at the library. In the past, Park used the bus system to go home after a night shift, but the pandemic made her reconsider the health and safety drawbacks of that as well.

“I really don't feel comfortable walking at night from the libraries,” Park said. “Last year I was able to ride the bus, but this year, I don't know how they're doing their bus system either and I don't feel safe riding the bus [when] there's a bunch of other people who have ridden it.”

Having remote virtual options for student workers has been both beneficial and challenging for the Career Center’s workers and interns. By moving the Career Center online, fourth-year College student You-Jin Yeo found it safer, easier and more efficient for students to access their appointments, resources and events.

“Technology is great because it provides us with … things we weren't able to do before,” Yeo said. “For instance, because it's online, students don't have to come to our U.Va. Career Center drop-in location and they can just quickly chat us on our website and then we can do a Zoom call — everything fast-paced. It's very convenient for everyone.”

On the downside, technology has also increased the student influx and workload for Yeo, making the changes in workload to be overbearing at times.  

“You're doing a lot more work actually and some of it is rather overbearing for us,” Yeo said. “The amount of work that’s given has drastically changed.”

Moving the Career Center online also limited opportunities for third-year College student Gabryelle Francois. As a new hire, Francois’ training was limited. She felt as if the adjustment that moved her intern training online was a new learning curve because she was unable to shadow her counselors and observe what a typical day would look like. 

“I haven't been able to do a lot of the things I would've been able to do if I was in person because of all of the changes,” Francois said. “So it hasn't really given me the chance to be able to shadow as what would be normal, so I guess I'm kind of being pushed … to just go into it and just find it out in a different way by myself.”

Aside from the Career Center, Yeo is an admissions intern in the University’s Office of Undergraduate Admission. As the office moved all their events and school admission tours online last semester, Yeo was saddened by the loss of in-person, relationship-building opportunities with prospective students and their families. She was also challenged by the limitations of technology, as it made it difficult to build connections with new workers and give tours to prospective students.

“You don't get that personal experience with those prospective students along with their parents because you're not meeting with them,” Yeo said. “We're trying our best to be collaborative as a team but there are limits to it, and it doesn't feel that welcoming or inviting for people who recently joined us and we're trying to get to know each other.”

Although remote learning comes with its own challenges, there are methods to combat frustrations and stresses students may experience. As Francois began her intern training amidst the pandemic, weekly check-ups helped her adjust into her new position. The weekly check-ups are provided for all Career Center workers and interns to help sustain students’ mental health and encourage community and personal relationships.

“They're really pushing to have open communication and always checking up on me,” Francois said. “I'm a new hire and in the position I'm in, it's easy to get stressed because of all the things I have to do, but my supervisors have been really good about taking things step-by-step and not loading too much onto me at once.”

As a supervisor at the Career Center, Yeo also stresses the significance of weekly check ups. 

“We constantly have weekly check-ups one-on-one … to check [worker’s] mental state, have someone to talk to and try to really get personal with that person as much as you can and get to know them,” Yeo said. “Everyone is just at home and they're limited to people who they can reach out and talk to so having that one-on-one time is important.”

Student workers provided suggestions to the University that would help maintain safety among students and make smoother adjustments to the new facility regulations. Fourth-year Engineering student Joebediah Spaeth suggested enforcing stricter safety precautions on Grounds while sharing how limits are necessary within facilities, such as Slaughter Recreation Center — the gym he’s currently working in. 

“They could do a better job to enforce the rules that they actually put in place,” Spaeth said. “I'll see people around Grounds without masks on, on the regular. [Regarding Slaughter], I think a lot of it just comes down to that really hard limit on the amount of people you allow in the gym and making sure everyone's on the same page about sanitization stuff.”

He also disagrees with the University’s decision to bring students back to Grounds because it creates a higher risk for student workers. 

“The University also didn't have to bring back everyone who lives on Grounds,” Spaeth said. “You can make exceptions for people who are at risk, but just because people [who] live off-Grounds are back, doesn't mean you also have to bring back another 4,000 people and make the problem worse than it already was.”

To ensure the student workers’ physical, emotional and mental well-being at the University, Francois reminds the student workers’ that their feelings are valid and should be expressed to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

“Take every day step by step,” Francois said. “Don't feel like you have to be someone you're not or perform in a state that you're not — it's really big to have a support system and speak to your managers and supervisors if you're not comfortable or if you're too stressed.” 

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