Masked Heroes of CSUN: The Employees Keeping the Lights On and the Campus Green

  • Portrait of Cesar Jacinto, custodian, in a stairwell, wearing a CSUN face mask.

    "To be one of few people on campus now feels a bit sad because it is so lonely. At the same time, I am grateful for the opportunity that I have to keep working amid this situation. Hopefully, God permitting, everything can return to normal or at least close to normal soon." — Cesar Jacinto, custodian

  • Portrait of Marisol R. Garcia, RN Lead, Clinic Support Unit, outside of CSUN's Klotz Student Health Center

    "It’s taken a shift in my mindset to be comfortable with the change in energy that lingers now, almost like a sense of loss. But those of us who are still needed on campus know we are there for an important purpose. I’m glad to contribute to the needs of our students when often times we are the only place they can turn to for health concerns." — Marisol R. Garcia, RN Lead, Clinic Support Unit, Klotz Student Health Center.

  • Artistic portrait as CSUN grounds worker Pablo Mendoza holds a rake, landscaper Manuel Munoz holds a leaf blower, and lead grounds worker Hector Diaz holds a weedeater.

    "The work itself does deter you from thinking too much. You just need to work and I'm glad for that. I'm blessed that I have a job here and I can be working." — Hector Diaz, lead grounds worker, far right, shown with Manuel Munoz, landscaper, center, and grounds worker Pablo Mendoza, left.

  • Portrait of Sgt. Frank Gudani, CSUN Police Services, by his patrol vehicle, wearing a face mask.

    "Being a veteran and having served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Shield and Desert Storm, we knew our direct action mission. It was the same then as it is now, to 'Protect and Serve.'" — Sgt. Frank Gudani, CSUN Police Services

  • Trevor Iovine, wearing a face mask, handles a package in CSUN's bookstore,

    "Working on campus while it is mostly empty is a strange feeling, but it is better to be cautious and err on a safe approach. I have taken a lot of precautions to lower the possibility of getting this virus. I wash my hands constantly (probably I would say at least every hour or so). If I am outside I always wear a mask. I stay safe distances away from everyone. I also make sure to use a lot of hand sanitizer. I believe this helps with minimizing the chances of contracting and spreading the virus." — Trevor Iovine, shipping and receiving, CSUN Campus Store

  • "We have pride as grounds workers that the campus looks good all the time. Even though people are out, we’re still taking care of our campus because it’s like our home." — Manuel Munoz, landscaper, center. First row, l to r: Grounds workers Octavio Luna and Antonio Guillen. Second row, l to r: Pest/spray specialist Jose Barajas, grounds workers Erick Reyna and Manuel Martinez, and lead grounds worker Mike Fowler. Third row, l to r: Landscaper Manuel Munoz and grounds worker Pablo Mendoza. Back row: Lead grounds worker Hector Diaz.

It took some getting used to, coming to work on a nearly empty campus.

It was too quiet in Northridge, and the absence of people shifted something fundamental about the sprawling, park-like campus.

“It doesn’t feel right, because the students and staff make up the life of the university,” said custodian Cesar Jacinto.

In March, CSUN transitioned to virtual learning, scattering students as well as most professors and staff to their homes in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. A smattering of staff members — those whose work is tied to the bricks, mortar, grounds, technology and other essential functions of the university — have returned in recent weeks, working a limited number of days per week or on staggered schedules that help colleagues keep their distance.

Still, only about 160 of CSUN’s 4,000 employees — 4% — come to campus every day, according to Toni Strauja, CSUN’s director of Employee Relations. These include workers whose tasks must be done on site, such as grounds crew, custodians and postal workers, as well as employees at the Klotz Student Health Center and University Cash Services, who are still serving the thousands of college students who depend on them.

In the fall, more employees are expected to return, using strict safety protocols, and there are plans to increase Physical Plant Management staffing over the summer.

In May, veteran CSUN photographer Lee Choo ’10 (MFA, Visual Communication) took portraits of several of the workers who report to campus, to honor their hard work and capture their spirit during this strange and unique time in university history.

Many of the on-campus employees said that at first, they had safety concerns about coming to campus, but quickly gained comfort with the masks and all the required physical distancing measures and sanitation protocols.

Many also said they’re happy to be working, and happy to provide critical services for the students who need them — and to serve as caretakers for the campus they love.

“We miss all our co-workers,” said grounds worker Pablo Mendoza. “Definitely, we miss them. The students, too, because that’s why we are here.”

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