Laila McCain ’21 is accustomed to working 18 to 20 hours per week. She gives tours and hosts information sessions for the Office of Admissions, works in the Center for Cocurricular Opportunities and is employed by the Office of Residential Life (ResLife) as a Residential Advisor in Chamberlain Hall. Now that the College is operating remotely, however, she can only keep her job working for ResLife.
“I only work seven hours a week now,” said McCain in a phone interview with the Orient. “Luckily, ResLife is paying me the same amount per week that they would have if I was on campus. It’s nice to have some sort of income, but it’s also a lot of money that I’m losing ultimately.”
McCain is one of a small number of student employees who are able to earn a paycheck in the final months of school by working remotely. No students are permitted to work on campus, and no students currently living outside of the U.S., regardless of their citizenship statuses, are allowed to work remotely.
If a department wants a student employee to continue working, a supervisor must submit a request to be reviewed by the Student Employment Office. The Office’s website states that only students who are “essential to supporting” a department and are in a “critical position” will be approved to work remotely.
While most student employees will make less money this semester than expected, the College has made adjustments to work-study grants for students on financial aid. These adjustments reflect the student’s expected earnings for the remaining eight weeks of the semester. Ava Jackson ’20 said she was surprised to receive the adjustment and that the amount was “spot-on.”
Jackson previously worked five to 12 hours per week in Thorne Dining Hall in addition to working off campus at her parents’ restaurant in New Hampshire. She’s grateful for the work-study adjustment now that both the restaurant and the dining hall are closed.
“I think Bowdoin is doing the right thing. Students are missing out on this opportunity to work and, therefore, the right thing to do is to compensate students for that time,” said Jackson in a phone interview with the Orient. “There are probably still some cases that have fallen through the cracks, but generally the College has been pretty good at working with students and meeting their needs.”
As the job market continues to suffer from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, it is difficult for students such as Jackson and McCain to find work at home. Many businesses in the food and service industries have closed or significantly reduced their business hours. McCain has worked at a restaurant near her home in Boston nearly every break since her senior year of high school, but now the business doesn’t have hours for her to work. Similarly, Jackson had planned to continue working as a bartender this summer, but if restaurants remain closed or open only for delivery, she said that she will file for unemployment benefits.
The lack of on-campus jobs means that students face not only a loss of revenue but also a loss of community. Individuals who work in an office on campus often befriend other students, faculty and staff while on the job.
Jackson wishes that she could still have that sense of community. She said that, especially as a graduating senior, she will miss the connections she made in Thorne.
“My supervisor sent a really sweet message about how he was going to miss us,” she said. “Other dining hall employees also reached out to me just to see if I was doing okay and offer[ed] any support if they could … help, which was very sweet. And they said that Bowdoin is treating them extremely well during this time.”
McCain appreciates that she can continue to be a part of the ResLife community despite working remotely.
“Even though we’re not physically there, ResLife is a huge chunk of kids. There are 80 people on staff, which is a big amount, and still being able to have some sort of cohesion and sense of a group is really nice, especially now,” she said. “A lot of students and staff members see the ResLife staff as a cohesive group that can make the community stay close in hard times, so I’m glad that that is still a resource that we all have.”
On-campus employers also miss their in-person interactions with student employees. After receiving approval for her two student employees to continue working remotely, Callie Kimball, the academic department coordinator for the theater and dance department, said she now looks forward to their weekly Zoom meetings.
“I’m a very social person, and I’m going to miss working in the same office with [these two students], but luckily we can do so much digitally and online,” she said in a video call with the Orient. “We’re figuring it out as we go, and it’ll be different. I love working with them, and I’m so grateful for all the technology that lets us stay connected.”
The Office of Student Employment was not available for comment.