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UM Senior Mulls Life Changes, Recounts Last Day on Campus

By Jessica Shipp
Journalism Student
jashipp@go.olemiss.edu

When senior multi-disciplinary studies major Christiane Tristan saw the email from Chancellor Glen Boyce recently announcing the transition to online classes for the next few weeks, she froze. 

“It was like time came to a standstill. I was just like, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

The moment Tristan read the email, the first question that came to her mind was about her on-campus job with student housing.

“I was like, surely we’d still be working during this. But I didn’t think it would be, you know, appropriate to voice those concerns. Especially while everyone in the office was basically in panic mode, trying to answer the phone.”

Tristan assumed that due to students needing to return to grab essential items and with spring room selection times coming up, she’d have a job at least for the next month.

As a marketing assistant, part of her job was to work to a small-scale call center to field questions from both on-campus and prospective students.

Away on small trip with friends to a lake house in Alabama, Tristan couldn’t help but feel panicked.

Hearing from her friends who were currently in Oxford that stores were starting to be cleared out of toilet paper and paper towels, Tristian immediately located a small convenience store and loaded up.

“Other than trying to buy toilet paper, I wasn’t too worried about anything else. I knew that housing would still need us to work at least for the next two weeks,” she said.

By Friday afternoon, it became less likely for students to return to in-person classes as the amount of confirmed cases climbed overnight.

She received a text from her boss in their workgroup chat, asking everyone to email her with a detailed statement about why they personally needed to keep working.

Tristan sent her email almost instantly and asked what would happen next in the group text. Her boss responded that they had to discourage everyone from working but as long as she was working, so would the marketing assistants.

“Reading what she sent kind of calmed me a little,” she recalled. “At least I knew she was going to be transparent with us throughout the whole process. What I don’t think any of us were prepared for was Tuesday.”

The following Monday, word had traveled down the pipeline. One week.

Student workers in the office would have that one week to work, and chances of working the full week didn’t look too good.

By Tuesday, it changed to hours. “We were told that a meeting was happening to discuss working remotely but more than likely, student workers weren’t going to have a job.”

Tristan panicked. Her job was her means of paying for her bills and living expenses. Almost completely independent from her parents, she didn’t know how she was going to make ends meet.

“At that point, I realized that places probably weren’t hiring anyone new except for like Walmart and Kroger. And even then, I’d be putting my boyfriend at risk because he has diabetes,” she said, explaining how those with underlying conditions have a higher risk of contracting the virus.

With the news that the office was closing at 5 p.m. that day, Tristan pulled out a camera and started to take pictures of team members as they reacted to the news that they were losing their jobs.

She figured they could serve as a way to preserve a moment in history, as well as leave their final mark.

“A lot of us are seniors and I don’t think any of us imagined our last day at work looking like that. If we had known those were our last tours, last golf cart rides, last time to work a visit event, we would have cherished them a lot more,” she said.

After leaving the office that day, Tristan still held on to hope that they’d soon be back. But with the announcement of the university transitioning to online for the remainder of the semester, her hope diminished.

Days following the office closing, hot tears streamed down her face. Fear had started to set in as she realized that life was on pause indefinitely. Worried about bills and expenses, Tristan didn’t know what she should do next.

“Like, what do you do in a situation like this? Do you file for unemployment, do you try to get a job and just hope you don’t get sick? There’s nothing that really prepares you for this,” she said.

Since the loss of her job and the transition to online classes, Tristan’s day-to-day-life has changed. Instead of waking up early to commute to campus, she now rolls out of bed and attends class from her home office.

When not in class, Tristan and her boyfriend Austin play video games, watch videos on YouTube, and play with their dogs. Tristan said finding things to fill the hours has been difficult but that the impromptu break has been beneficial.

“I feel more rested now but at the same time, I feel anxious to get back to normality,” she said. “I’ve missed just doing things like going out for dinner and just being around my friends and family,” she said.

“It just makes you think about all the things you took for granted, like going shopping or going to the movies. I think we’ll all now have a better appreciation for just the mundane things.”


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