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.”