Whitman’s decision to move to an online distance-learning system due to the coronavirus outbreak has left some student employees out of work and financially insecure.
Director of Human Resources Telara McCullough sent out an email on March 26, 2020 regarding student workers and supervisors. Student work was divided into three categories: “remote student work, essential campus work and non-essential work that cannot be completed remotely,” McCullough wrote. Students who fall into this third category are no longer able to work, which raises concerns over their financial security.
First-year Bertine Lakjohn’s job at the college bookstore served as her only source of income prior to the move to online distance-learning. She was informed on the job to anticipate not being able to work during the break.
“Communication was real hazy-like,” Lakjohn said. “From the bookstore, they were only able to tell us what they could — meaning whatever information the school gave them was what they gave to the workers, which was equivalent to what the school had already been informing the students.”
As the uncertainties of the pandemic necessitate day-to-day decision-making, Lakjohn expressed an understanding of the school’s difficult position in regards to releasing a clear statement. Despite losing her job, Lakjohn has been able to continue living on campus.
“The one thing the school has been able to do is they’ve been able to keep me [at] school which I’m grateful for as I would not have anywhere else to go if they told me to leave because of international traveling restrictions,” Lakjohn said.
First-year Joy Nampaso worked at the admissions office for two days before being let go on March 18. She decided to return home upon learning that her two other on-campus jobs — at the Glover Alston Center and Baker Ferguson Fitness Center — would not be open for her to work.
“I understand that the decision of the school was not their desired intention for us but health comes first,” Nampaso said. “The school has been following up with remote student employment which I haven’t looked into but I believe would be a good opportunity.”
The school launched a newsletter for updates pertaining to campus resources and news during the pandemic called “Whitman Today.” The newsletter sent out to the Whitman community on Thursday, April 2, made an announcement regarding “Student Employment for College and Non-College Related Work” with information for supervisors on hiring processes.
“Financial Aid Services will be working with students to place those with the highest need into new or vacant positions. Priority will be for students with work study eligibility that need to continue to pay their bill or pay room and board off campus,” the newsletter said.
Assistant Director for Career Readiness and Employer Engagement Erin Town described the same prioritized concern and discussed how the Student Engagement Center (SEC) is working with other offices on campus.
“The SEC has partnered with Financial Aid and HR to meet on a daily basis for the past three weeks to address this issue, and we’ll continue to meet throughout the semester,” Town said in an email to The Wire. “This is a working group of the College’s overall Coronavirus response team, so it has had a very high level of attention and priority.”
Town explained how the committee has been working to determine on-campus supervisors’ employment needs moving forward.
“We have encouraged supervisors to think about how on-campus positions might be transitioned into remote projects for students who are no longer on campus, and have also asked that offices contact the SEC directly if they have any vacant positions,” Town said. “This process is helping us to identify potential opportunities for students whose jobs no longer exist…New job opportunities have been limited, but we expect that department needs may evolve as the semester continues.”
Despite the college’s efforts, newly unemployed students who are not prioritized or cannot find vacant positions continue to experience financial instability. Nampaso spoke on her outlook for the future.
“I feel the pain of losing the jobs because they helped me pay my school-related bills but I’m positive I’ll figure it out,” Nampaso said.
Lakjohn reflected similar financial concerns moving forward.
“I would have preferred to have some sort [of] assistance in getting another job because I still have quite a few bills to pay…I am doing alright at the moment, a lot better than I expected.” Lakjohn said. “But what I have secured may only last me a month and I honestly have no clue about what I’m going to do once it runs out.”
For students who are feeling unsure of their financial circumstances, Town welcomed the use of campus employment resources that are still available, including virtual appointments with the SEC staff.
“Students who have not been able to find employment and are worried about paying their bills should reach out directly to the Financial Aid office for guidance,” Town said.