‘How’d you get a job on campus?’: Students struggle to find work at WU during the pandemic
Within the next couple of weeks will be the one-year anniversary of one of the most momentous days in history: the beginning of lockdown. As students at Washington University, many of us had flown home for Spring Break and would later receive an email that would alter the course of our lives. Today, many are still studying from home, taking a gap year or just trying to remain productive and enjoy life in an apocalyptic-seeming world.
Everything changed, including the accessibility to on-campus jobs.
While it is documented that Wash. U. has a lack of socioeconomic diversity, there are still many students who hold on-campus jobs as a means of further supporting their cost of attending college. Some do this through a federal work-study job. According to the Financial Aid Office website, work-study is for students who qualify for need-based aid and have the opportunity to receive a part-time campus job. The student’s salary is federally funded while a non-work-study job is not.
Through my own experiences this year, work-study has provided me with minimal opportunities to work on campus. The website touts the program as a possibility to build your resume, but often these jobs are focused only in certain areas, such as working in a lab. While this may be beneficial for some, it leaves many students out. This has only been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Last year, Amy Hattori, a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences, worked in the Rudolph Rettner Earth and Planetary Sciences Library through the work-study program. Her tasks included personal projects given to her by the librarians, creating material for research classes and even aiding in map repairs. “I could see my direct impact on the library itself,” she said. Overall, she does not regret the job and believes it is a good starting block for building up her skills. Hattori remarked how it taught her about persistence and basic clerk skills.
However, after the pandemic hit, the library has been closed and she has currently been unable to find a work-study job on campus. She said that the search for a work-study job “has been really frustrating because the website doesn’t get updated and a lot of the jobs are heavily focused in biology and…other STEM departments. It’s not a bad thing…but like as a non-lab person, it’s kind of annoying.”
Rashaan Yapp, a freshman in the McKelvey School of Engineering, works at Wash. U.’s Sumers Recreation Center. When he was recommended to the job and later hired, other students asked him, “How’d you get a job on campus?”
Many places on campus that used to hire many students, such as the vast number of libraries, have reduced their numbers to far below what they used to be. My own personal experience has been similar to Hattori’s in which the work-study website is outdated, and a large number of the jobs listed are STEM-related, require specific skills, or are at odd times of the week that do not work around my class schedule.
Ricardo Alvarado, a sophomore studying Architecture, also wishes there were more jobs that catered to skills that supplement all majors that are offered at Wash. U. His job last year and this year is working at the call center, which he had been referred to from his DENEB mentor. While he likes the job for the pay and the communal aspect that existed before the pandemic, Alvarado would not have gotten it had financial security not been an issue for him. “I need the money though,” he said, speaking of having to pay for groceries.
Other students explained that their motivations for having an on-campus job were not entirely for the money. Eylül Horozoglu, a sophomore studying Biology and an international student from Turkey, worked in Olin Library last year in a non-work-study job after not being able to find a lab job. Her job involved a “healthy balance of fetching books, sitting at the desk helping people and shelving books.” Similar to Hattori, however, the pandemic led to the closing of the library which only just reopened late last semester. Horozoglu was able to get back her job and enjoys the ability to make money to pay for groceries. It helps her “have a hustle mentality,” she said.
However, Horozoglu mentioned how her job has greatly changed due to the pandemic. Now she must wear her mask and gloves and spends her time mostly alone in the library that she had once described as “so chaotic.” One of her favorite aspects of the job was interacting with the people who walked through the library. Now, Olin “can be very lonely,” she said.
A question that came up during the interviews was how much one’s financial situation contributed to the decision to have an on-campus job. For some, having a job felt like a necessary commitment to pay for the cost of attendance. Tuition increased by $1,450 for the upcoming academic year, according to Amy B. Kweskin, vice chancellor for finance and chief financial officer. And that is one of the lowest percentage increases in tuition in years.
If finances were not an issue, some would not have taken their job but would have rather focused on their academics and extracurriculars. One noted that the job taught them not only soft skills, but about classism on campus, and how they would have devoted more time to clubs. For me, having a job takes away time that I could have spent studying or participating in a club. Instead, I have to worry about my finances and be conscious about the monetary and time decisions that I make. Similarly, Alvarado mentioned how he had wanted to see multiple campus speakers, but his job prevented him from going.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed who we are as a campus. For the jobs that do remain for students, many have gone online and the remainder involve strict COVID protocols, both of which will mostly remain until the pandemic is over.