Feasting the Staff

Yesterday on twitter a friend asked ‘what are your favorite distractions?’ – this was easy for me – conversation. I love engaging with other people, whether the conversation is serious or superfluous. And conversations lead to opportunities and new ideas – I never know what is going to come of a conversation. Perhaps a new project idea will develop; perhaps I’ll be able to help connect someone to a resource they might find helpful; maybe I’ll get free tickets to a concert (that’s happened–thanks Pow Pow!). Conversations are a gateway to discovering new things about your friends, turning strangers into friends, and who knows what other opportunities.

Some of my favorite people on campus to converse with are the library staff. The librarians, the administrative staff and the students who work in the AC Library are all pretty great.  And librarians know an AMAZING amount of information about EVERYTHING. So I never know what’s going to happen when I stop by to chat with them.  When my car got a flat at 7am last fall and I had to cancel an 8:30am exam at the other college I was teaching at (the adjunct office said they could not possibly find a proctor for me – otherwise everyone would ask for that…??), and I was beyond frustrated, I went to the Alma College library to buy a cup of coffee in the cafe. I realized upon walking in that I had only plastic, and the coffee shop needs cash or ‘munch money’. In desperation I asked a staff member to loan me two dollars for much-needed coffee. Instead, she ushered me into the back room where I discovered it was someone’s birthday, and they fed me coffee, cake and ice cream and listened to the tale of woe about my car and that OTHER college. On another occasion, a librarian introduced me to the tragedy that is Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus (starring Debbie Gibson and Lorenzo Lamas!) The Library. Is. Amazing.

So today when I dropped off a film, I had a conversation. And someone asked ‘are you going to the reception?’ I said ‘what reception?’ I was soon reminded of an e-mail I hadn’t paid much mind to – the Administrative and Support Staff award reception.  I had seen the e-mail, but only thought about it for a few seconds before deleting it.  Each campus has its divisions between Students, Faculty and Staff. I don’t mind crossing the boundaries, but I also know that some people prefer those boundaries, and I don’t want to step where I’m not supposed to be. For example, when I head to the town pub for happy hour with colleagues I try to leave before the students arrive to drink and sing karaoke. I don’t need to see that, and they may not want me to see it. I had no idea if the e-mail about the Reception that went out to all of us was really for everyone, or if it was just a courtesy notice.  None of my other faculty colleagues had mentioned anything about it. I didn’t need to be there. I’m not actually being paid to be on campus right now. So I’d written it off. Not my place, I’d decided.

BUT. Now I knew people who were going – it turned out several of the library staff and one of the faculty librarians were going. So I wouldn’t be going in alone, where I wasn’t welcome; I had a posse. And while my first inclination was that this sounded a bit drab, a colleague had invited me along with her, and I really DO value the staff here, so who was I to say no to her event? Plus she mentioned free food, and I don’t get another paycheck until September. The anthropological instinct kicked in – if you are invited to a feast, say yes. So we piled out the back door of the library and off we went.

And boy am I glad I went, for three main reasons:

  • I got to see a lot of great people get awards. I saw awards for years of service (two people got 35 year awards!), community engagement, and Presidential Awards. I heard about the amazing work that people have been doing all over campus, much of which is behind the scenes work to make us function. Some of these awards went to people I know, and I was glad to be a part of their celebrations in particular.
  • I got to put a lot of names to faces and learn about folks I haven’t met who work around me on campus. I know the staff I encounter regularly – I know the Administrative Assistant for my department, I know the custodians for my floor (including the 3rd shifter who has given me lots of great tips about where to see local live music), I know the folks in the Provost’s Office. But I don’t know the Counselors or the Admissions Folks, or the Custodians who work on other parts of campus. As they got their 5 and 10 year awards I heard a little bit about what they do. And as some of them bantered with the President, I got to learn a bit about their personalities.
  • I really DO appreciate the work that all the administrative and support staff do on campus – they make this place function. When you don’t get to know the support staff that means they are doing a really good job behind the scenes. And I’ll be honest – I was disappointed there weren’t more faculty at the reception.  I had figured department chairs would attend, or something like that. Including the Provost and the President I think I saw 5 faculty at the event (and I’m an adjunct, so I only count as what, half-a-faculty?).  It’s great for the staff to celebrate one another and to enjoy each other’s company on a sunny afternoon. But they should know that the faculty recognize and value all they do for the college as well.  As I was discussing with a friend the other day, sometimes just being present is all you need to do to show your support.  The staff I interact with regularly know I appreciate them – I tell them so. But how do I tell the registrar, the media and communications staff, the admissions officers, the guy who makes all our data-systems work, and the custodians that keep my classrooms clean that I appreciate what they do? Showing up to their awards banquet and applauding all the award nominees and winners seems like a good start.

I’m not sure exactly why more faculty don’t attend.  I know some say they’re too busy, or they should focus on the business of teaching and researching. I know these things are important. Right now it is Spring Term, so several faculty are not teaching, and some are off-campus with their classes.  Maybe they are like me, and unsure of crossing boundaries and entering a setting that is not their own. Still though, it was one hour of one day. I don’t think that is too much to ask.  I certainly plan to attend again next year, with or without my posse.

One conversation, a distraction, led to an event I would otherwise have missed out on. And that event was a distraction as well, but a worthwhile one.  So I’d like to add to my list of distractions I enjoy: not just the conversations, but the adventures and activities that develop because of them.

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