Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
January 24, 2021

Student workers discuss effects of campus closure

By CLAIRE GOUDREAU | April 13, 2020

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In an email to the student body on March 14, the University announced that it would pay all on-campus student workers their average weekly wages until April 12, in response to the shutdown of campus due to the coronavirus pandemic. Director of Student Employment Services Nickolas Lantz has since informed The News-Letter in an email that all student workers who are able to continue their work remotely will be paid through the end of the semester. 

This transition from on-campus to online work has been confusing for many student workers, most of whom now perform different tasks or work fewer hours.

Senior and Neuroscience Lab teaching assistant (TA) Jerry Song reported that his workload has decreased significantly since the suspension of in-person classes. A job that used to take up a significant portion of his week, he said, has now been reduced to almost nothing.

“It’s very hands-off now. It’s nowhere near the involvement that it was before... Since the transition, I’ve answered two to three questions total. Yesterday, I was finally writing a long paragraph answer back to a student about a complex concept, and that’s when I felt helpful. A few TAs will take care of that and others can easily get by with not doing anything,” Song said. “The demand is low.”

Song has also had a difficult time working off-campus as a tutor for the Writing Center, where, until last Wednesday, undergraduates were not allowed to work remotely. This was because, due to an error on the part of the University, undergraduate Writing Center tutors were set to be paid for only 2.8 hours a week, despite many of them working an average of eight or nine.

Because Writing Center tutors only began working in the second week of February, the University’s averaging calculation failed to properly account for the amount of time that tutors typically dedicate to their job each week.

Junior and Writing Center tutor Sonomi Oyagi said that she found the whole situation unfair and confusing.

“I’ve been working an average of eight hours a week, so it would just really suck to be paid for less than half of my time,” she said. “It is really frustrating... to not have the same cushion that I normally do.”

Junior and Writing Center shift leader Nicole Kiker agreed with Oyagi, saying that the mistake showed short-sightedness from the University.

“My paycheck on the first was basically nothing, even though they had said that we were going to be paid the average amount [we made per week],” she said. “You’ve really got to be thorough in times where people are unstable... and it seems like a pretty big oversight to only have figured out the problem after we got the first paycheck.”

Kiker said that she is also unhappy about having to tutor students remotely, since she finds the phone calls and emails limiting.

“Over-the-phone is really just not the same as in-person, and for specifically me as a tutor, I write all over their paper. In a lot of the responses we get in the exit surveys for students, they really appreciate as much notation as possible, so they can go back and make all those specific changes — but one of the guidelines in the phone consultation protocol is that we’re really not supposed to change much of anything,” she said.

On Tuesday April 7, the Writing Center announced in an email that all tutors would be permitted to return to their regular working hours.

However, other student workers have reported that their transitions have gone more smoothly.

Junior Isabella Sarria, the access and diversity student coordinator for the Admissions Office, informed The News-Letter in an email that although she is no longer able to perform her original duties, the Admissions Office has given her other tasks.

“I am still working on different ways... to promote diversity,” she wrote. “Personally, I think the Admissions Office has done a good job of making sure that their student workers are still involved in their jobs in some way and... still able to receive some sort of payment.”

Sophomore Yvette Bailey-Emberson, who works for the Community Impact Internships Program, said that campus closure has actually helped her perform her job better.

“It gives us more flexibility and I am able to actually attend meetings since they’re all online now instead of... during the school day,” she said.

However, Bailey-Emberson noted that her other on-campus job, the director of Host Captains for the Admissions Office, has not been so easy to move online. 

In response to the campus shutdown, the Admissions Office has cancelled many events, including the Spring Open House Overnight Program (SOHOP), which, in a regular year, enables admitted students to stay on-campus overnight with a current student.

“We work all year on SOHOP for it to be cancelled suddenly. All of our work basically goes to nothing,” Bailey-Emberson said. “It’s pretty upsetting.”

According to Bailey-Emberson, the Admissions Office and its student workers are still doing what they can to salvage cancelled events.

“We’re making the best of it by providing Zoom chats with prospective students to try to create some sense of SOHOP and campus visits,” she said.

Other offices and departments have also been moving their events online.

Freshman and LGBTQ Life Intern Tomisin Longe said that she’s been helping to make annual events like Gaypril and the Lavender Celebration virtual.

“Rather than fully cancelling them, we’ve cancelled the in-person meet-up and adjusted them so that they work better on an online platform. So, for the Gaypril event that we had the other day, instead of having it as an in-person meet, we just had it online on Zoom,” she said. “We just have to put a little more prep in beforehand.”

For Longe, moving online has come with its own upsides. The office’s walk-in hours are now more flexible and do not require students’ physical presence, making them more accessible, she pointed out.

Student Employment Services is still functioning regularly and will continue to help and hire student workers for the remainder of the semester.

Director of Student Employment Services Nickolas Lantz said that he hopes all student workers remain healthy and safe.

“I would also like to personally thank each and every student worker for the great work they have done and the great work they continue to do remotely. Student employment is a vital piece to a student’s university experience, and I am grateful to work with such talented students,” he said.

News & Features Editor Rudy Malcom is employed at the Writing Center. He did not contribute reporting, writing or editing to this article.

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