The Collegian
Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Student employees worry about loss of income, optimistic about one-time payment

<p>A glimpse of the University of Richmond campus.&nbsp;</p>

A glimpse of the University of Richmond campus. 

When junior Kevin Villagomez heard that the University of Richmond was shifting to remote learning for three weeks and possibly longer, one of his first thoughts was whether he could continue working at his on-campus jobs, at which he spends 30 to 35 hours a week.

He immediately tried to figure out if he could come in for his scheduled shifts at the Weinstein Recreation Center that weekend, Villagomez said. But when his petition to stay in on-campus housing was denied, he was unable to work the 15 to 16 hours he had been scheduled for, he said.

“Right there I already missed out on a huge chunk of pay,” he said. “And my initial thought was, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to pay for bills.'"

Villagomez is one of the many students at UR whose student employment has been affected by COVID-19 and UR's transition to remote learning. 

Some students have been granted exemptions to stay on campus, such as first year Cody Chau, who said he had been allowed to stay on campus as a low-income student. But both of Chau's jobs — at Lou’s and the Office of Undergraduate Admissions as a diversity ambassador — have stopped scheduling.

Like Villagomez, Chau is worried about the loss of income. He uses money from his jobs to pay for things like food and getting his car fixed, and was also saving for study abroad in the future, Chau said. 

“Not having a job anymore is really problematic,” Chau said. “It really did just throw a stick in my bike wheels, to be honest.”

Villagomez and Chau both looked for jobs after they heard they would likely be out of work for weeks, if not the rest of the semester.

Villagomez said he was hoping to work at UPS from 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. “It’s going to conflict a little bit with my school schedule, for sure,” he said. “It’s definitely something that’s going to be a little…little hectic.”

Chau had a job lined up at a restaurant in Richmond, but it fell through as COVID-19 continued to spread, he said. Although the City of Richmond has not banned restaurant service completely, many restaurants are choosing to close or limit service anyway.

"I was trying to scramble, trying to find something,” Chau said. “And I did, but now I’m out of luck again. ... I’m back at square one.”

Sophomore Val Zuluaga said she had been worried that her inability to work as a lead barista at 8:15 at Boatwright would impact her financial aid.

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“My financial aid does require me to have some kind of work-study,” she said. “When I realized that this job might close ... I was a bit nervous about how that was going to affect my work study program, how that was going to affect my parents. Like, how are they going to pay tuition, and just how that would work moving forward.”

A March 5 article from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education said that institutions could continue to pay federal work-study wages to students who are enrolled and performing work-study at a campus that must close because of COVID-19. 

On March 19, an email sent to all student employees addressed the loss of income caused by the shift to remote learning.

“To support you during this time and help mitigate the impact of no longer being able to work, the University is providing a one-time payment to student employees who had spring earnings and who have an active student job,” wrote Stephanie Dupaul, vice president for enrollment management.

Zuluaga said the email had been unexpected. “I’ve heard so many horror stories from other universities that just haven’t thought the shutdown fully through,” she said. “For the University of Richmond to cover all of their bases, I really appreciated that.”

Villagomez said he thought UR had been doing a great job, especially given how reactive it has had to be, but worried about how long it took for the announcement to be sent.

“I think that they should have had a coordinator coordinating with all student employees telling them, ‘Hey, listen, this is what’s happening and these are the things that we’re discussing. Do we need input, how can we go about this?’” he said.

Villagomez said that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions, where he works as a student ambassador and office assistant, had contacted him about the possibility of working remotely.

“After this email ... I don’t know if that’s still going to be in effect,” he said. “How are they supposed to pay us for the rest of the semester and then pay us, on top of that, more?”

Dupaul wrote in her email that the payment amount would be based on “prior work hours and the expectation that you would have worked similarly scheduled hours for the remainder of the spring.” Remote work at places, such as the Writing, Speech and Academic Skills centers, was not addressed, although these offices resumed services on March 23, according to UR's COVID-19 information site.

Junru Zhou, a junior who works at the Lora Robins Gallery as a research and curatorial assistant, said that the email had raised logistical questions such as the exact amount of the payment. Nonetheless, she said she was happy about the decision.

“I do think the university is trying [its] best,” Zhou said. “I mean, it’s a hard time for everyone.”

Chau agreed, noting that the effects of COVID-19, especially economic ones, were not limited to the university. “Obviously these times are very tough,” he said, “and with how the economy’s going, it’s going to be a lot harder.

“I definitely need to find something just to support a lot of my expenses,” he said. “But if not … it’s not the end of the world. There’s people that have it worse than me.”

Contact copy chief Caroline Fernandez at caroline.fernandez@richmond.edu.

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