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From servers at local restaurants to writing center counselors, students are seeing changes in their careers with the COVID-19 closings.

Uncertainty and confusion continue to grow within the JMU community as the administration attempts to combat the circumstances of COVID-19. One source of worry is the effect that the start of online classes and the closure of campus has had on student employment.

Junior media arts and design major Paige McKenzie said she had two campus jobs before the recent closing: working as a lab assistant at the Ashby Testing Center and as a peer writing consultant in the University Writing Center. She won’t be able to return to her job at the testing center and was offered no financial compensation. However, she will be able to continue her work as a writing consultant with online sessions. She said her bosses have been very communicative but, unfortunately, only so much can be done. 

“I really get a lot of my spending money and part of my rent money from working on campus, so I’m kind of internally freaking out,” McKenzie said. “As of right now, I’m just sitting anxiously.”

McKenzie said she hopes that she’ll continue to be paid at an hourly rate, despite the possible decrease in appointments.

The recent closing hasn’t solely affected student finances, but it also may take a toll on those who use their jobs as experience for their area of study. Sophomore hospitality major Nicole Rizer was employed at Madison Grille, a small restaurant located on the fifth floor of Madison Union. Rizer worked as an extern for Aramark to fulfill hours required by her class, HM212: Hospitality Prowess. In this class, she said students receive certifications for serving food and food safety, using experience in campus dining facilities as a part of their lab. 

Rizer and her fellow student employees received an email notifying them that they wouldn’t be able to return due to certain facilities closing, taking away a source of income and an essential part of their education. Rizer said that her professor and JMU’s food safety provider are working together to find a way for students to finish this course. 

“They're trying to figure out a way on how we will pass this class even if we do not get to 96 hours in lab,” Rizer said. “They assured us that they would do everything they could and that it wasn’t fair to not pass us based on this.”

Rizer’s guess is that her required hours will be modified or she’ll have more online training to complete. Her situation is an example of the numerous challenges that JMU faculty and students face in the switch to online courses. Situations like these may add stress on individuals who are already dealing with a change in living situations, finances and planned events. 

While some students have remained at their Harrisonburg residences and continue to work off-campus jobs, others have been called home by parents. Sophomore public policy and administration major Sophie Skalny was employed at local restaurant O’Neill’s Grille, known for its cheese fries and cookie skillets. 

“My parents would not allow me to stay in Harrisonburg, so I told O’Neill’s that I wouldn’t be returning for the time being,” Skalny said. “They sounded pretty stressed but understood that my safety was more important, and they were very understanding.” 

Skalny said she’s remained home since spring break and has had no further contact with O’Neill’s. Students who chose to stay may not be living in the Harrisonburg they are used to, McKenzie said. She said many stores have closed or have been cleared out of stock in certain merchandise. She also said that many residents are wearing gloves and taking social distancing precautions. 

“I came back to Harrisonburg with a very casual mentality and was ready to hang out with my friends and sisters who I knew would be back, and then once we all got here, we realized this isn’t fun — this is scary. This is serious.” McKenzie said, “Don’t return casually — return with a purpose. Stay mindful of your actions. It’s not going to be Frog Week round two.”

Contact Sarah Connor at For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.