Student Workers Suddenly Deemed Essential, Due to Pandemic

Courtesy+of+NPR

Courtesy of NPR

Katherine Hamilton, Editor-in-Chief

Since the Covid-19 outbreak, college students across the globe have transformed from minimum-wage servers and cashiers to “essential workers.” In Massachusetts, many restaurants remain open for takeout, and grocery and pharmaceutical stores are deemed indispensable. According to a 2012 Georgetown study, about 70 percent of full-time students also work, meaning that many students are continuing to work through the state lockdown. As the pandemic presses on, Clark University’s student workers are adapting to their new “essential” status and the challenges that come with it.

“It feels weird because why is takeout essential?” said Clark junior Arianna Reyes, who continues to work at the Worcester Olive Garden as a takeout server. Reyes said that, since Covid-19 closed in-house dining, takeout orders have risen exponentially, and her hours have increased to nearly forty a week on top of schoolwork.

Along with the stress of balancing school and work, Reyes described a lot of anxiety about getting sick. “I’m terrified about working, but I’m not scared about losing my job – just getting sick and getting other people sick.”

While leaving the house is a risk many employed students must take, others have been able to continue their jobs remotely. Clark senior Anelyse Piani-Hohmann works at Clark’s Information Technology Services (ITS), which transitioned online shortly after the campus closed down.

“At first there was a lot of chaos, but it’s smoothed over for the most part now that most everyone has settled into their home offices,” she said. “Our bosses have been extremely helpful. They were the ones who figured this out basically overnight when the stay-at-home request was sent out.”

Despite the relatively smooth transition, there are still some flaws with remote service, according to Piani-Hohmann. “It’s hard trying to fix issues over the phone and not have the ability to see the issue in front of us,” she said, explaining the difficulty of verbally directing customers to the right buttons on their keyboards. “Having to switch from in-person appointments to over the phone has basically proven to be the equivalent of trying to do our job with one hand tied behind our back.”

While remote work has created several new challenges, many essential stores are implementing equally drastic changes, according to Clark senior Alexis Marston.

Marston has worked full-time at the Millbury Target for two years now, but her workplace has undergone a range of alterations in recent weeks, including increased sanitation throughout the store. Target has closed its fitting rooms, placed purchase limits on several sanitary goods, and implemented an intercom announcement to remind people to socially distance.

“It’s stressful being the only one who’s working in a household and being the one coming in and out and exposing my roommates to germs,” she explained. “I’m not afraid of getting sick. I’m more afraid of spreading the virus to vulnerable populations.”

Unlike Reyes, Marston’s hours have decreased by about 10 to 15 hours a week, as customer numbers dwindle. “It concerns me financially,” said Marston, who relies on the income to pay her tuition and rent. “But I’m thankful that I do have a job because I know millions of people are unemployed.”

More than 22 million people filed for unemployment since March 14, according to the Washington Post. Ellie Oslin, who is finishing her last semester at Clark, was working as a swim instructor at Goldfish Swim School before the “non-essential” business closed indefinitely. Oslin stated that her employer sent out an email including a link to file for unemployment, but she decided against filing due to the lengthy process.

“For me, it was less about the income and more about missing the connection with the people I’m working with,” she said, explaining that she used to work with the same kids and parents each week.

As a senior, Oslin also has growing concerns about the future and finding a full-time job after graduation. “My trajectory and my future plans – it’s all kind of put on hold right now,” she said.