We see them all the time around campus: students who are holding down jobs either as part of a financial aid package or just to make ends meet while they pursue their studies. They may be sitting at the information desk at Usdan, passing out appetizers at receptions, assisting faculty or athletic teams, or working as RAs or in Admissions helping others find their way. These jobs can be pretty challenging, and it’s important to remember that many hold more than one – and all are full-time students.
I worked in the kitchen at the Star and Crescent Eating Club when I was a student, and it was an important part of my undergraduate experience. I usually had a pretty good time with my fellow dishwashers and waitresses, but once in a while we had to deal with the ‘unpleasantly entitled.’ Recently I was hearing from student workers about how things are today on campus. The anecdotes below are (loosely) derived from what I’ve been told.
Think of the student, “Enrique”, who passes out appetizers at receptions, usually wearing a crisp white shirt and a bowtie. Sometimes he sees classmates at the receptions and often his teachers. Usually these interactions go smoothly, but occasionally people he thought he knew pretty well act strangely. They aren’t exactly rude, but they look right through him. Enrique likes his job, the other waiters are fun, and the boss makes sure they eat well. But it’s disturbing when students or faculty seem embarrassed to see him or just pretend they don’t seem him.
Or consider “Anna,” who works at the information desk at Usdan. Most of the time things are pretty slow. She gives directions, helps folks find the restrooms, matches visitors to campus with some of the things going on that might interest them. Other student workers hang out from time to time, and they can even get some schoolwork done. But sometimes on the weekend shifts, drunk students come through and act like jerks. Anna says that isn’t as upsetting as the fact that the sober bystanders just stand there and pretend not to notice. She isn’t invisible, she knows.
“Alex” works two jobs –she is a research assistant in a lab on top of being a Resident Advisor. Most of the time she manages to juggle her various obligations, but recently there was a crisis in her residence unit and she was up much of the night talking a first year student out of doing something really stupid. The frosh gave her a big “thank you” and a bigger hug, but by that time it was 4 am. Even coffee didn’t allow her to mask the yawns the next day in the lab. “Too much partying, Alex?” asked her professor. This was the first personal comment he’d made that semester. No big deal, Alex said, but she felt rotten the rest of the day, and she didn’t have the energy to study for her history exam.
On a daily basis student workers just do their jobs, finish their homework, write their papers, but once in awhile, the conditions on campus make it extra difficult for them. Some of us forget that many here are under more than the usual pressures. What should we do about that? For starters, let’s just treat student staff, like all who work here, with respect and kindness. The whole university benefits from their contributions. Taking the time to acknowledge those contributions is a benefit as well.