DePaul student employees claim unsafe work environments as pandemic persists


Eric Henry

Students walk around a mostly empty campus during the pandemic.

DePaul student employees in various departments across campus told The DePaulia they witnessed many community members failing to wear masks and adhere to the school’s health and safety guidelines.

Kyle Tomlin worked for DePaul mail and print services for around two years. He recently left his job after experiencing what he described as a persistent Covid-unsafe work environment.

“The office is really great; the pandemic situation has made it, like, seemingly the scariest job on campus,” Tomlin said. “[The mailroom employees] noticed a general lack of care on campus from anyone… people were getting too comfortable.”

Mailroom workers are responsible for delivering mail all over campus and frequently interact with different departments. 

Tomlin said that after voicing concerns to his supervisors, requests were sent to various departments asking workers to adhere to the mask policies better. However, Tomlin said he witnessed community members continuing to violate Covid-19 guidelines.

“I’ve been in [the public safety office] and I’ve seen a group of six people standing right next to each other in a circle, no masks, all chatting inside, just standing there gossiping, not a care in the world,” Tomlin said. “I’ve overheard conversations from people like ‘oh can you believe this, the complaints.’”

One of Tomlin’s former coworkers, who wished to remain anonymous, also recounted incidences where they witnessed various DePaul employees failing to wear masks.

“I loved [working in the mailroom] pre-pandemic,” the source said. “And then pandemic — it drains you.”

“Other departments would come to pick up mail sometimes, and they would have seemingly some difficulty putting on masks, or sometimes it would fall down, or it just seems like maybe it was a little bit more laissez-faire where they were,” the source said.

“Housing services always has one receptionist student worker, and they would never be wearing a mask… I understand there’s nothing, no one around you, so you probably wouldn’t be wearing a mask. But sometimes we would come in and it wouldn’t be up,” they added. 

Those working conditions added extra stress to mailroom employees on top of their preexisting responsibilities, they said. 

“Being at the office obviously, like, scared the shit out of me sometimes,” the source said. “I have really bad anxiety… and so I would go to the office and just almost have panic attacks sometimes when I was out on runs…. We’re wearing [masks] all day, and it seems like no other office is doing that or respecting us.”

“I knew it was the only job I could probably get,” they added. “That’s the scary part about this. It’s like, [Tomlin] and I love this job, and it’s some of the only jobs we can get right now. And it’s so important that students feel safe on campus.”

Student employees from other on campus jobs recounted similar instances where community members refused to follow guidelines. DePaul senior Justin Myers works as a building manager at DePaul’s student center. Part of his responsibilities include monitoring visitors to ensure they’re being Covid-19 safe.

“That was a lot of pressure on us,” Myers said. “We’re the ones that are having to enforce this, and people aren’t following it. They aren’t listening to us.”

“All of us are getting pretty worn down at this point and pretty fed up with the fact that these people just can’t follow the darn policy of wearing a simple mask that’s posted everywhere in the building at regular intervals,” he added. 

Myers said he primarily noticed students failing to wear masks in the student center.

“The only group that really, we’ve noticed to have higher violations is like the student athletes,” he said. “Their coaches really don’t seem to be enforcing that policy as much as they should, which trickles down into how their students conduct themselves on campus.”

Myer’s coworker, Emily Firestone, recalled an instance where an adult staff member refused to follow Covid-19 policies. After Firestone asked the staff member to show their Campus Clear app, as the school requires, they yelled at her.

“She’s like, ‘Why do I have to show it? I’m vaccinated. Why do I have to show it?’” Firestone said. “And so she pulls out a screenshot printed out on paper of the Campus Clear app… and she throws it at me and stormed into the building. And I at first was very taken aback by it.”

DePaul senior Lily Goldstein works at DePaul’s library and dorms and experienced students and staff violating Covid-19 policies as well.

“We recently had a problem with public safety trying to come in and use our restrooms,” Goldstein said. “They will just barge past. They don’t ask [and] I need to see their Campus Clear. They don’t show me, and they’ll bring friends that are associated with DePaul… when that was definitely not permitted.”

“They wear their masks, usually. I think there was one incident where someone didn’t because they’re used to working the night shift. And they don’t wear their masks then, I guess,” she added.

“I’m definitely concerned because a lot of people are dropping the mask stuff, especially in the dorms, and a lot more people are just generally on campus,” Goldstein said. “It’s getting a little bit more crowded than it used to be, and people are getting kind of lazy. That’s a little concerning.”

Despite working in different departments, student employees share the same concerns regarding Covid-19 policies being upheld. They also want greater transparency and support from the DePaul administration, starting with increased communication.

“I think the biggest issue I have with the higher ups is the information, like communication of information,” Goldstein said. “I get a lot of questions that I don’t know the answers to [and] critiques or concerns from people.”

The DePaulia reached out to the public safety and housing departments as well as DePaul’s spokespeople for comment. Kristin Mathews, a member of DePaul’s public relations team, provided a response on behalf of the university, including both departments.

“Everyone at DePaul is expected to follow the university’s rules for wearing masks on campus,” Mathews said. “The administration follows up on all reports of rules not being followed.”

The Illinois Department of Health has so far reported over 1000 cases of Covid-19 variants in the state, which can be spread more easily. Health officials encourage continuing safety practices like mask wearing and social distancing, and recent data suggest wearing two masks could offer even more protection. 

DePaul also reported ten Covid-19 cases on campus over the past eight weeks. As the virus persists and more precautions are encouraged, students said they want DePaul to uphold its safety guidelines.

“It’s definitely been like we’ve been in the dark and kind of all alone,” Myers said. “[There is] not really anyone to be advocates for us beyond just ourselves, and just ourselves only goes so far.”


Correction (4/19/2021): A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Justin Myers’ last name as “Meyers.” The story has been corrected to reflect the proper spelling.