Sophomore sport management major Max Richards was ready to return to working for the University of Georgia Athletic Association after spring break.
Richards said if anyone had told him that all Georgia athletic competitions would be canceled for the remainder of the athletic year, he would have never believed it.
This announcement came after universities across the nation suspended in-person classes, including UGA. After the University System of Georgia decided classes will transition online due to the outbreak of COVID-19, Richards said he was notified through a GroupMe message that the SEC suspended required and voluntary team activities through April 15.
Richards said while his parents help pay for his rent, he relies on the money he earns through his job on campus to pay for books, parking and food.
“I’m not going to be homeless, but I like to eat,” Richards said.
Student workers across UGA’s campus are now left not only without a campus to study on, but also without a job. Due to the uncertainty of the unprecedented public health crisis, some students have received mixed communication and are unsure of the future.
Although she said money was a concern, sophomore finance major Alana Alverson said her health took priority.
A lifeguard at Ramsey Student Center, Alverson was originally scheduled for an “in-service” training directly after spring break, which all lifeguards attend once a month to brush up on their skills.
On March 12, UGA announced a two-week suspension of classes after spring break, in which students would not be expected to participate in classwork and were instructed not to return to campus. After this email, Alverson said lifeguards were told they should still plan to attend the training.
Less than 24 hours later, lifeguards received an email from the Department of Recreational Sports saying that Ramsey Student Center was closed. On March 16, UGA moved instruction online for the rest of the semester. The day after that, the university cut back on-campus operations and canceled all public events for the remainder of the semester.
For Alverson, the news came as a relief.
“I live with my grandma, who's 70 years old, so it definitely made me feel better,” Alverson said. “I mean, the chances are low, but I don't want any possibility to pick [the coronavirus] up, go home, give it to my grandma and her really struggle with that if she were to get it.”
Meredith Lynn, a junior communication sciences and disorders major, said she felt the university handled the situation “the best they could.” Lynn is a crew member at the UGA Performing Arts Center. The Performing Arts Center canceled all scheduled performances through May 10, which Lynn said came as a shock.
Lynn said her boss reached out to each employee individually over the phone to make sure they were OK. He also advised employees to file for unemployment, Lynn said.
In addition to her role on UGA’s campus, Lynn also holds a second job in Athens at Carraba’s Italian Grill, which she said offered “relief pay” to its workers. She said at first she was thrown off and upset when the university didn’t offer her any sort of financial compensation, although it reimbursed students for on-campus housing and various fees.
Junior linguistics major Emma Klevesahl works for the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Office of Information Technology.
“I really think that it should have been essential to at least provide student workers with at least half of their usual compensation in this dire time because student workers through all of UGA and USG are very literally the brunt of the workforce,” Klevesahl said.
For Trey Young, an employee at the Chick-fil-A in Tate Student Center, the future is uncertain. Although UGA Dining Services sent email communications after the announcement of the initial two-week suspension of classes following spring break, Young said he has not received any information since the USG announced classes would be transitioning to online.
“Once we got word that we were being shut down for the rest of the semester, it’s like all communication just vanished. It evaporated,” said Young, a junior journalism major.
Other students were able to keep their jobs with UGA. Peer learning assistants are able to continue helping professors teach classes from home as the courses switch to online formats. Sophomore biology and anthropology double major Ankita Shah assists with a Biology I class.
Shah said the PLA’s worked together to brainstorm how they could most effectively help engage students and assist professors via an online platform. At this point, Shah said they have looked at facilitating discussions on eLearning Commons, scheduling Zoom office hours and continuing to make review sheets for the course.
“I’m privileged in the sense that I can still work from home, even though I don’t have as much to do,” Shah said. “I’m still being paid the same amount, and I’m still being given the same amount of hours. It’s just going to be a lot harder to connect with students and facilitate student learning, just because I’m not actually there.”
When classes are not online, Shah said her day-to-day role included attending classes and weekly PLA meetings with a faculty member. During class periods, Shah said she answered students’ questions during group activities.
Although Shah believes teaching online might be more difficult, she said she is glad the university suspended face-to-face instruction, even though she said it was “kind of a late response.”
But many students, such as Klevesahl, were left waiting for information concerning the future of their job.
“We still don’t know when we’re going to return to work,” Klevesahl said on March 27. “I just emailed my boss actually two days ago, and he said he was still unsure because it’s an evolving situation.”
On March 31, Klevesahl said she and her coworkers would work from home starting next week, but she said they are capped at 15 hours per week instead of 20.
In an email to The Red & Black, UGA spokesperson Greg Trevor said some students are working from home and earning wages in certain roles that allow teleworking, such as graduate assistants. Trevor also said students who earn Federal Work-Study jobs are continuing to receive aid.
“However, teleworking is not possible for every student job on campus,” Trevor said in the email. “Students who have a particular financial hardship should reach out to Student Care and Outreach, which can help advise the students about resources that may be available.”
Trevor said UGA is working to determine if unemployment benefits in the federal stimulus bill related to COVID-19 apply to student workers.
Correction: A previous version of this article misidentified the course Ankita Shah works as a peer learning assistant for. Emma Klevesahl's on-campus job was misidentified. The Red & Black regrets these errors, and they have since been corrected.