As the Dalhousie University fall term begins without classes on campus, the Dalhousie Student Union (DSU) has been forced to cut almost 50 per cent of jobs from its student employees. All the while, the DSU is slowly reopening the Student Union Building (SUB) according to the DSU Vice-President (Finance and Operations) Isa Wright.
The majority of student jobs created by the DSU exist in the SUB, which closed when classes shifted online in March 2020. The building began a phased reopening on Sept. 8, but without the foot traffic generated by classes on campus, some of the DSU’s most popular services might be forced to remain closed, said Wright. One of these services is the Grawood, the SUB’s bar and restaurant, whose employees are eager to return to work after a tumultuous 2019-2020 school year.
“It’s a really weird feeling, like knowing that I don’t get to see my coworkers as much,” said Victoria Thompson, who’s worked at the Grawood since 2018. “Not getting to see them at all is probably, honestly, the worst part about it.”
Does reopening mean more jobs?
The SUB’s phased reopening is beginning with the first floor and basement, allowing the Tim Hortons, DSU front desk, Dalhousie Bookstore, Loaded Ladle, DSU Food Bank and DSU Farmers’ Market to begin operations for the fall term. The upper floors of the building will follow at a later date.
“For now, in order to protect our full-time staff and kind of do a phased reopening, we’re waiting to see what the levels of COVID-19 on campus look like before we open those floors,” Wright said.
The opening of the front desk and Farmers’ Market will allow some of the DSU’s student employees to return to work, Wright said.
Currently, the DSU’s plan to reopen the SUB does not include the Grawood. Its future is up to students.
“In order to maintain fiscal responsibility with our student dollars, we’re keeping [the Grawood] closed, just until we see how much flow of traffic there is through the building. And if we think there’s enough of a demand to sustain a restaurant, we will certainly look to reopen as soon as we can,” Wright said.
DSU faces backlash on social media
Students have been sharing their frustrations with the DSU through the popular Instagram page Dal Memes, which has more than 20,000 followers.
A post made on Sept. 1 shows an anonymous direct message the account received with the caption: “Here we go again.” (This in reference to the Grawood being shut down twice during the 2019 fall term due to administration issues between Dalhousie and the DSU.) The message in the post claimed the Grawood and Campus Copy (a printing service station at the SUB) were not opening because DSU executives are “too lazy and paranoid to have anyone in the building.”
On other Dal Memes posts, students made comments calling for DSU membership fees ($77.28 for full-time students and $40.18 for part-time students per semester) to be cancelled and said they don’t know how the DSU spends their money. The DSU’s budget breakdown can be found on their website.
“We recognize that even in a regular year, there are often a lot of questions about where your $77 DSU fee actually goes,” Wright said. They hope access to the SUB will help remind students what the DSU can do for them. “We know that a lot of people, when they think of the DSU, they think of the SUB and it’s really important to us to open the building.”
Finding work outside the DSU
Despite online support from the student body for the Grawood to reopen, Thompson said she and the other staff members have realized it likely won’t be possible.
“It’s just that there’s not going to be that many people. I don’t expect you to be coming to the Grawood every single night to drink or something,” Thompson said. “I’m glad that people want us to be open and that’s really cool. It’s just, I’m not sure if that would translate into having a lot of business.”
Thompson is concerned about an oversaturation of candidates in the food service job market in Halifax, as many establishments were fiscally forced to lose employees before reopening at reduced capacity under COVID-19 restrictions.
Thompson is worried about her chances of being hired when her resumé of working at a campus bar is compared to those listing experience in large chains or fine dining.
“[Employers are] probably not going to be like, ‘Yeah, we should hire the student bar girl. She’s probably better.’ So yeah. I haven’t got a ton of callbacks,” Thompson said.