Working from home when your work is your home


“Campus looks like a scene from a zombie apocalypse movie.”

My friend and remained on campus from March 13 to March 30 as resident assistants, and the once-bustling campus is now a ghost town. 

One of President Gregory Fenves’ main bullet points for his coronavirus response was “supporting students who are on campus, living in residence halls and relying on university services.” 

However, all residents were required to leave the halls by March 30, except in emergency cases. With everyone gone, what happened to the staff who work in the halls? We were told that since Friday, March 13, almost all of the senior staff of University Housing and Dining have moved to work from home, and now, direct supervisors of RAs are allowed to work from their homes too. 

But in many of the residence halls, RAs were still at work maintaining desk operations and on-call shifts. These positions exposed RAs to a large number of people coming in and out of the halls, including residents, family members and mail carriers, which increased their risk of contracting COVID-19. 

Meanwhile, we got emails and notifications every day from the world saying, “Wash your hands!”, “Stay at home! Practice isolation!”, and “Protect the immunocompromised!”. We wanted to do our part in the fight against COVID-19, but how could we when our jobs were potentially on the line? 

In the past, UHD has struggled to provide adequate support for RAs. The continued expectations during this time showed a lack of care for student health. Despite their insistence on repeating and affirming that student staff are “humans first, students second, and staff last,” this move seemed to show that they do not care for our identities as students or as individuals who have provided exemplary work and who time in and time out address emergencies on the behalf of the department.

Requiring student staff to stay within the halls and to work additional hours without confirmed additional pay is not right. But technically, it’s within UHD's bounds. At the beginning of the year, all RAs are required to sign a work agreement that states that “RAs may be assigned duties outside the normal scope of an RA due to maintenance projects or for any other reason to meet the needs of University Housing and Dining.” 

Additionally, it says that “during peak periods such as opening, closing, and special activities, work hours may increase.” Therefore, these additional work hours cannot be technically classified as wrong and will likely be lumped under “other duties, as assigned” or under “closing hours.”

But just because it’s in our contract, does it make it right? Is neglecting the safety of your student staff while seemingly protecting only senior members of your department moral? No, it’s not. Disregarding student employee safety to maintain operations during a pandemic should be unacceptable. Requiring student staff to stay within the halls and to work additional hours without confirmed additional pay is not right. Only recently, March 27, were student staff notified that their work would be compensated.

This pandemic has taught me many things. I’ve seen how panicked people get. I’ve learned how the United States is woefully unprepared. And I’ve also learned the extent of the indifference UHD seems to have toward its student staff. Now, more than ever, I feel that I am expendable, that I am just a number and not a human.