Op-ed: An open letter to Northeastern students, from a staff member

A+staff+member+shares+their+perspective+on+the+spring+2021+teaching+policies.

Kelly Chan

A staff member shares their perspective on the spring 2021 teaching policies.

Editor’s note: The News has confirmed the identity of this staff member, who has elected to remain anonymous for fear of professional retaliation.

Dear students,

I am writing this in response to the letter you received from a professor published on Oct. 29. While I understand why that letter focused on the plight of faculty, I would like to elaborate on the staff perspective as well. 

All of the issues the anonymous professor raised are just as relevant to staff members, particularly student-facing staff. We too have medical conditions outside of those approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We too have children with no childcare options. We too have family members with underlying conditions we must care for. The university’s decision will disproportionately affect women and staff of color. What’s more, the staff are being asked to come back to campus to meet one-on-one with students. We’re being told that students are demanding to meet with us in person. The Chancellor phrased it as staff who do their “best work on campus,” like advising, co-op, career design, etc. 

Here’s the thing we do our best work when interacting with students regardless of the location. All departments that regularly meet with students have been doing so at full capacity since March. We have continued offering the same services to students on virtual platforms, including registration walk-ins appointments, practice interviews with co-op coordinators and career advice in real time as needed.

We’re now being told this is not good enough, and that students are demanding we make ourselves available to meet in person. We don’t believe this to be true. We haven’t heard complaints from students about the virtual meetings. Instead, students have been generous in their understanding and are thankful for the service they’ve received. 

Further, meeting in person is almost impossible given social distancing guidelines. Most of our offices are 5 feet by 10 feet. There’s not enough room to be 6 feet apart. Also, many staff members meet with students for 30 minutes or longer at a time. That’s well past the CDC guidelines for close contact. It was suggested we could meet with students in some of the vacant conference rooms. However, that means we’d have to project the student’s record on a large screen, which is certainly not protective of their privacy rights. Right now, we can share our screens on virtual platforms and protect the students’ records. We have a system that is working. Why are we being asked to change it?

It appears that the university recently issued more flexible guidance for faculty in light of their concerns about coming back to campus. However, they haven’t issued anything for staff. As far as the staff are concerned, we’ll be asked to return to campus at any moment. We seem to be left out of the conversation. The whole Northeastern community should feel like they have options that work for their family and personal safety. Please don’t stop emailing and calling. The fight’s not over until the staff have options as well.

Sincerely,

A concerned staff member and parent who desperately wants to keep serving students in a way that works for my family and makes me feel safe!