Punch’s Alley, lovingly called “the Pub” and famous for its Thursday night themed parties, offered a space on campus for students to escape the pressure of Wellesley’s notorious stress culture. Before its closing due to COVID-19 social distancing regulations, it also provided income to the students who staff it, between $12 and $15 an hour. For several Pub employees, this job made their attendance at Wellesley affordable. Members of the Pub recognize the importance of closing it during the pandemic and are unsurprised by the decision to do so; however, the administration has not offered monetary support and now many of these workers are unsure how they will meet their living expenses.
The announcement that the Pub would be closed was sent out June 30 by College President Paula Johnson in an all-school email outlining Wellesley’s plan for Fall 2020. The same announcement stated that Cafe Hoop and El Table, two other student-run cooperative businesses on campus, would be closed as well. This was news to members of the Pub’s staff, who were not informed prior to the decision. Several members of the Pub staff felt left in the lurch by the news of its closing and the implications of having to suddenly deal with a source of income being eliminated.
Due to laws limiting the sale of alcohol in Wellesley, the Pub has for many years been the only bar in the town of Wellesley. One consequence of the pandemic is that the town of Wellesley has been left with no bars, at least for now.
After discussion with the members of the pub staff, February Spikener ’21, co-general manager of Punch’s Alley, created a GoFundMe to raise money for the Pub employees. As of writing, the GoFundMe, shared on Twitter on Sept. 7, has raised $3,368 of its $8,000 goal.
“I really just wanted a way to … have everyone be supported,” Spikener said. “A lot of us do rely on the Pub as well as other jobs for our income … and kind of to fund our lives.”
The closing is particularly harmful to low-income senior Pub workers, employees said. These students must now navigate their final year of college away from Wellesley, preparing for post-grad life without the job — or jobs — on which they had expected to rely for support.
“Having an on-campus job is a necessity for me,” said Simone Nevills ’21, a Pub employee. “I was counting on having this job so I could both pay my bills and set money aside for post-grad life … that’s now in doubt.”
Ordinarily, employees at the Pub and Cafe Hoop are paid through a fund allotted by Wellesley, while any profits they incur from selling products or running events goes towards maintenance of their space or the purchase of supplies, rather than student compensation. The school, however, is no longer offering any portion of that funding.
Having an on-campus job is a necessity for me.
The lack of response from administration on this issue has added to their frustration. According to Spikener, the general managers of the Pub — Spikener and Amy Quintanilla ’22 — met with Jessica Grady, the director of Student Involvement, on July 16, during which they were informed that the pub would be more heavily regulated than it was in previous semesters, but they were not given any answers regarding student employment or compensation, or whether or not the pub would be open on campus. Spikener said that Pub members have not heard anything directly from administration since then.
“I was under the impression that whoever could come back to campus would be working in person,” Spikener said. “At no point did she indicate that we would be closed for the semester.”
According to Pub employee Kate Estrada ’21, the lack of communication from administration is a pattern felt by low-income students who have lost their jobs due to COVID-19 regulations across Wellesley’s campus. Estrada described a sense of instability among these students, and she hopes to see administration reach out to them with answers to ease this. Estrada also shared that even though the Pub employees are not on campus, they are still working to maintain the Pub. Given the high degree of independence Pub employees have from Wellesley, there is a great deal of planning they must do for the future of the Pub.
“There are still things that need to be figured out … that is still labor,” said Estrada. “How can we continue to get paid doing the work that we need to do behind the scenes?”
Although the greatest concern for members of the Pub has been the loss of income, many are further disappointed by the closing because of how much the space has meant to them. For many, the Pub was an on-campus haven.
“If I have nowhere else to go, I go there. If I have no one else to talk to, I talk to Pubbies,” Spikener said. “We really are a family unit.”
In addition to the close relationships forged between the employees, members of the Pub pride themselves on how their labor contributes to Wellesley’s social life. Pub employee Olivia Feldman ’21 noted how the Pub is one of the few places on campus dedicated to community-building outside of academia.
It was really special that Wellesley had a place … that centered queer people and that was safe for queer people to be in.
This strong sense of community is felt beyond the Pub staff. Malley Chertkov ’19, who made a donation to the GoFundMe, said the Pub’s “inherently queer” community space influenced their decision to contribute. The Pub was also a special place to Meiya Sparks Lin ’22, who said that the safe and comforting yet fun atmosphere of the space motivated their decision to donate to the GoFundMe.
Nevills echoed this sentiment, stating that a lot of students were able to freely express their gender and sexuality at the Pub in ways they had not been able to elsewhere.
“A lot of queer spaces outside of Wellesley can either be hypersexualized or just nonexistent,” Chertkov said. “It was really special that Wellesley had a place … that centered queer people and that was safe for queer people to be in, and that had so many different activities that weren’t just having a drink and dancing.”
Spikener believes that this loss deserves acknowledgement from administration, along with compensation for the students who work to cultivate the space.
“I know Wellesley has the money to compensate us … I just think they don’t value the work that we do,” Spikener said. “I feel like we should be compensated for at least… half or three-fourths for the work that we would do and now can no longer do as a result of the pandemic because if we were allowed on campus, in any other circumstance, we would be doing our jobs, and obviously this is out of our control, and I don’t think we should be punished for that.”
Nevills pointed out how this is not the first time students and alums have banded together to ensure needs are met in times of crisis. In March, as students were hastened off campus in light of the surge of COVID-19, a Facebook page titled COVID-19 Assistance for the Wellesley Community was created by students and alumni to aid students in their attempts to find off-campus shelter and provisions. Thousands of dollars in aid have since been distributed through the page.
“It was, frankly, a wonderful thing to see that people could donate not just money, but their resources and their talents to help students move off campus, find new housing, find new ways home,” Nevills said. “We have to band together.”
Despite the hope Pub employees have in community aid, they hope others will recognize that a GoFundMe was not their first choice. Feldman expressed admiration for the way students organize to help one another, but also a sense of weariness at the responsibility to do so falling on students, especially when so many are financially strapped.
“I hate that it ever falls on students to make up for places where admin lacks, but the fact of the matter is that we can’t do it alone, and that’s our only other option,” Nevills said.