Student workers go virtual

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Matthew Lopez

Natalie Miranda, Features Editor

Returning from spring break, most campus employees have moved online as a response to the surging COVID-19 pandemic, in hopes of flattening the curve by eliminating unnecessary face-to-face contact.

On March 23, only “essential staff” is expected to be on campus — “essential staff means areas like the Department of Police Services who are responsible for the safety and security of the entire campus,” Debra Hammond, the executive director of the University Student Union, said in an email addressed to student workers.

“I feel that the university has tried their best to keep as many employees off the campus as possible,” said Lilibeth Orozco, the student public relations assistant from the Marketing Department within the University Student Union. “From what I’ve gathered, they’re doing their best to keep the health of the essential employees in mind as well as keeping the workspace clean.”

During the online transition, student employees were feeling the stress of trying to adjust to their new reality — fully operating remotely to provide the essential services that their jobs offer the campus community.

“I don’t think anyone was prepared for this,” said Esteban Reynoso, an editorial assistant at KCSN. “We all saw it coming, but no amount of training can prepare you for stuff like this – only experience. It was like a meteor crashing to Earth, your curiosity has you frozen, but eventually it’s gonna crash.”

Keilyn Abe, a lead student assistant and lower division writing tutor at CSUN’s Learning Resource Center, said she was preparing to work at home, while still wrapping her head around the overwhelming pace of the virtual move.

“I never thought that I would be working either of my positions at the LRC remotely,” Abe said. “Because the news has progressed so rapidly, I don’t think I’ve fully processed that the majority of the work I will be doing is going to be from home.”

Abe, like much of the campus community, said she first met the news of the switch to online with uncertainty.

“My initial thoughts were mainly questions about how it would work and what exactly I would be doing since moving all of our services online has never been done before,” Abe said.

Although the escalating coronavirus precautions have complicated what it means to be an on-campus student employee, their sense of responsibility to do their job hasn’t wavered.

Abe said having student assistants and tutors from the LRC work from home is essential to the success of the student population.

“Despite the stress of the situation, I’m glad that we have this opportunity to still offer help to students who rely on our services,” Abe said. “The LRC is an incredibly important campus resource that would not be able to work as well as it does without the work of our student employees.”

Kyla Rose Leynes, also a lead student assistant at the LRC, said paying on-campus employees during the COVID-19 closures is crucial for the financial security of many students.

“I am privileged to live at home with my parents, so financial stability is not a growing concern for me in these times,” Leynes said. “However, I know many students whose livelihoods are so reliant on their income from their on-campus jobs. Without the option to work from home and still receive income, many students will be negatively impacted.”

While most student workers have continued working online, some student employees don’t have the same remote work opportunities.

Living that reality, Yasmine Cardenas, a barista at the Freudian Sip located at CSUN’s University Student Union, said the unknowns regarding unemployment have been weighing on her.

“The closure of the campus due to COVID-19 has pretty much put me out of a job for the remainder of the spring semester,” Cardenas said.

Cardenas remembers being at work when she received CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison’s email announcing that many campus operations would be moving online.

“That day I had been working with coworkers who rely on their campus job in order to pay for rent,” Cardenas said. “My first thoughts were, ‘How were they going to pay their rent?’ ‘Would the school still pay us?’ ‘How would they help these students?’ As for me, I live on campus so I am fortunate enough to not have to pay rent, but it leaves this feeling of uncertainty for my coworkers.”

Since that moment, she has been informed that the campus will continue to pay her through April 5. But unlike student assistants and work study student employees, who get paid through the end of the spring semester, the approaching halt in income remains unsettling for Cardenas’ piece of mind.

Like her coworkers, Cardenas’ livelihood relies on her campus job. After April 5, she worries about her everyday expenses.

“We’re pretty much left out on our own to figure things out,” Cardenas said. “A challenge for me would be having to pay for groceries. I am going to continue to live in housing until the end of the semester, and I pretty much have to live off of what I have saved so far. And since I am without transportation, I have to factor in how I am going to get places in order to shop for what I need.”

Even if student employees have remote job opportunities, some share that their tasks are limited and will no longer be the same.

Georgeanna Octaviano, a lead inventory marketing assistant for Student Marketing and Communications within Student Outreach and Recruitment, said that since schools are canceling their college fairs, CSUN recruitment counselors don’t have schools to attend and she doesn’t have events to prepare for.

Octaviano said she completes the majority of her work using spreadsheets and communicating through email, but there are some responsibilities she won’t be able to execute remotely.

“A regular work day consists of answering and forwarding department emails, creating informational packets for prospective students, and arranging giveaways for CSUN recruitment counselors to attend various college events,” Octaviano said. “Out of my many duties as a marketing assistant, I won’t be able to create informational packets from home, but my office did organize a system so students can still receive their information about CSUN to apply in the future.”

With the virtual move, potential technology issues are a common worry among student workers.

For instance, Leynes said her main concern with shifting operations online is Zoom crashing.

“I know that once spring break is over, more and more people will be on Zoom and it seems very likely that it would crash,” Leynes said. “With regards to my job in particular, I don’t have too many concerns. I’m sure that once things start picking up, we’ll encounter frustrations and challenges, but I believe that we’ll make things work.”

Having good Wi-Fi also plays a significant role in working remotely. Octaviano said without it, her work wouldn’t be possible.

“Since I live at home with my parents, my younger sibling in high school needs to complete online assignments and my mother works remotely as well,” Octaviano said. “Nearly all of my family members need internet connection to maintain our lives outside of our home.”

In addition to being employees, they are fulfilling their student role as well. Balancing the two, while at home, may have its difficulties.

Leynes said she foresees juggling work and school while operating remotely as being a challenge.

“I know that it will be difficult for me to stay motivated when I’m just isolated in my room, but I think I just need to set a strict schedule for myself to get into a good rhythm,” Leynes said.

Despite the closure, Reynoso said he had the option to work from campus, but operating without the news team made his usual tasks feel solitary.

“I knew [working remotely] was always possible to do with technology and all that, but it is weird to open the rundown creator home page and not see anyone else around you or hear the radio on as you edit scripts,” Reynoso said.

While working at home to increase social distancing, Abe said she’s going to miss what her usual work day looked like before going virtual.

“What I always looked forward to when going into work was seeing my bosses, co-workers, and meeting one-on-one with students,” Abe said. “I think that it’s those connections that naturally become stronger with seeing each other every day that helped make my jobs so enjoyable.”