Students adapt to in-person work as employment numbers rise
As student employment numbers return to pre-COVID-19 rates, student employees reflect on the challenges of balancing work responsibilities with campus life.
Courtesy of Lucas Holter
This semester’s relaxed COVID-19 restrictions have allowed many student employees to return to work or to pursue on-campus jobs for the first time. But the return to in-person employment poses new challenges as students factor work responsibilities into their academic and extracurricular schedules under uncertain COVID-19 circumstances.
Between July 1 and Nov. 13, 2021, 729 more students submitted timesheets for on-campus jobs than did during the entire fall 2020 semester, according to Heather Abati, student employment manager. The number of on-campus jobs available has also increased — this semester, 1,896 on-campus jobs were available in 218 different departments, a 14 percent hike from the 1,657 jobs offered in fall 2020.
“With staff returning to work, we have seen the landscape of student employment start to return to pre-COVID activity with students working in offices, labs, at athletic events and within their residential colleges,” Abati wrote in an email to the News.
Lea Cioffi ’24, who has worked as a student manager in the Trumbull College dining hall since fall 2020, explained that she appreciates the security of a steady income that she can save toward tuition payments, school expenses or any emergencies that arise during the semester.
“Getting a job was definitely something I planned on doing when I got to college,” Ciofi said. “I worked throughout high school, and I knew I would need to continue that at Yale in order to cover all of the expenses associated with college, even the social aspects.”
In the first two weeks of the semester, Justin Lai ’24 said, his French class required him to buy $200 worth of books.
Not long after, Lai began work as a student manager in the Grace Hopper College dining hall. He explained that he got the job to avoid relying on his parents for money as he kept up with academic and personal expenses.
As students like Lai started up new jobs this semester, some were faced with the additional responsibility of maintaining COVID-19 safety protocols in their workplaces.
“We’ve had a few new requirements for the job as of this semester,” said Truman Pipestem ’24, a student staff member in the Native American Cultural Center. “Every staff member is asked to help wipe down surfaces to help prevent the flow of COVID, and we’re also tasked with maintaining the capacity of rooms.”
Student employees are required to follow the COVID-19 policies that apply to Yale buildings, which require that all individuals who enter be fully vaccinated and wear masks. In the dining hall, Cioffi said, there is an increased emphasis on employees washing and sanitizing their hands.
Despite these protocols, some student employees said that they felt that their jobs put them at increased risk of contracting COVID-19.
“I definitely think working in the dining hall and coming into contact with so many people during a single shift puts me at greater risk of exposure,” Cioffi said. “You’d be surprised how many people come into the dining hall without a mask or with it under their nose.”
Cioffi added that students who are contact-traced for COVID-19 are often still permitted to pick meals up in the dining hall, potentially exposing dining hall employees to the virus.
Although Lai also expressed concern that his job put him at a greater risk of COVID-19 exposure, he added that dining hall staff and students both typically stay conscious of COVID-19 regulations.
COVID-19 policies are a less immediate concern for the population of student employees whose jobs are still virtual. Abati told the News that the only student employees who have mandatory restrictions on in-person work are those who work with school-age children. All such students must work remotely this semester, Abati said.
Iris Li ’24, who works as a Writing Partner at the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning, explained that while Yale allows Writing Partners to work in person, most of the tutoring sessions she leads are still held over Zoom.
Lai, who worked virtually last year as an undergraduate technology assistant through the Poorvu Center, described the adjustment to in-person employment as “a learning curve.”
“It was a little bit hard with time management,” Lai said. “Given how much time is required for every dinner shift, I had trouble balancing going to work and doing my homework. That meant a lot of office hours sessions missed or saying no to friends if they want to get dinner together.”
Cioffi agreed, explaining that since most of her hours in the dining hall are on the weekends, she goes from a full week of classes and homework to a weekend of working.
For some students, balancing classes with employment means doing homework while on duty at their on-campus jobs.
“My library job lets me work, since not a lot of people go,” said Joy Liow ’24, who works in the film archive at Sterling Library. “We’re just at the front desk writing, so I can do homework. It’s really nice that there are specific hours where I can specifically be like, ‘Okay, I can do work.”
Several students added hat their on-campus employment is not only a source of income, but also an opportunity to engage in substantive work or find a break from academic life.
In addition to her library job, Liow also works as a compensated disability peer mentor, a commitment which she finds meaningful because of her interest in disability advocacy.
And Li, who works as a Pierson College Aide in addition to her job in the Poorvu Center, said that both roles bring her “great joy.”
“I decided to apply to be a college aide last spring because I’d heard good things from Pierson upperclassmen about the aide community,” Li wrote in an email to the News. “The good things are indeed true. I feel like I have a better grasp on all things Pierson as a result of my job. As for the Writing Partner position, I love to edit writing.”
Pipestem emphasized that his job felt “dynamic,” in part because of his commitment to the NACC.
“I believe that the job is very engaging,” Pipestem said. “I’m employed in a place where I feel happy to be anyways.”
Students can apply online for on-campus jobs.