Edgar Ortiz, a senior studying chemistry, works a loom at the weaving studio at Berea College, in Berea, Kentucky, Nov. 6, 2020. The college sells artisanal goods to the public, such as the placemat Mr. Ortiz is weaving, as well as other home goods made by students.
(Photo: Nick Roll/The Christian Science Monitor)
Originally posted by The Christian Science Monitor
By: Nick Roll, staff writer
Edgar Ortiz pauses as he operates a wooden loom several times larger than he is, reflecting on his college job as he fashions a place mat.
“Who comes to college and learns how to weave?” he asks.
For Mr. Ortiz, a chemistry major set to graduate this spring, weaving place mats wasn’t how he originally imagined he’d be spending his time outside the lab. But Mr. Ortiz attends Berea College, where every student is assigned a job on campus, ranging from farm work to artisanal craft skills – such as weaving or woodworking – to more routine posts such as cleaning or being a teaching assistant.
This past semester, though, Mr. Ortiz was missing more than half of his co-workers. Social distancing rules had limited the capacity of the weaving studio and the number of students able to work there. On a recent afternoon, he was joined by only one other student employee and their supervisor, who is overseeing seven students this year instead of her usual 16 to 18.
Students at work colleges like Berea – there are eight others in the United States – are employed by the school in an effort to keep costs down for both students and the administration. Working through the pandemic has meant adjusting to new health standards and working in smaller, socially distanced crews – if students are able to work at all. And for the colleges, disruptions to the student work programs lead directly to disruptions to day-to-day operations.
“We had to shift to a work program where we were covering the essential jobs first,” says Berea President Lyle Roelofs. This was especially true in agriculture, where the college’s crops and livestock needed diligent care, but there were fewer students on campus to provide it. “It was sort of amusing,” he says, recalling one student who was originally planning on working in the fundraising office but wound up “being asked to explore the dignity of labor by feeding the hogs.”