The morning breakfast traffic is diminishing, and the clumps of students scattered throughout Das-comb's dining room are beginning to thin. At one of the round tables sits a circle of adults dressed in institutional red. Enjoying a break at about 9 a.m., after arriving at work at 5:30, Frankie Pilson and Donna Baker, morning first and second cooks respectively, eat with other Dascomb morning employees.
The cooks and other food preparers take pride in their work. "I wouldn't be here [if I didn't like it]. People work here because they choose to. I like my job and I think I portray that in the dishes I prepare," Baker said. .
Other Campus Dining Service (CDS) employees share a similar view about their jobs. "I love my job. I love cooking on a grill," Sharon Nester, Stevenson grill cook, said. Nester described aspects of her job in detail, from the slicing of cheese and tomatoes to the grill she works on that removes grease as it is cooked from the hamburgers. "I just really like my job. I like it because I'm out front and can communicate with students," she said.
Alice Cornish, who works in the snack bar during breakfast and lunch, also feels positively about her job. "I enjoy cooking fast foods and preparing them," she said. "It's sort of like a mothering kind of work and I enjoy that. The only things that bother me are the things that bother me as a mother."
Cornish said she is not annoyed by questions or confused students, just those who don't clean up after themselves.
For other CDS employees their job is just that - a job. "It's convenient. It's a job ... When you need a job and somebody's got to pay bills, what else you going to do?" another snack bar employee asked. One employee couldn't find time to talk because she works during the days at McDonald's and at the snack bar at night.
Sharla Edgell, an employee at Dascomb, is working her way through Lorain Business College. Only a temp worker, she works part time and is glad that she doesn't have to look forward to a career in CDS. "For myself it pays the bills through college but its nothing to make a career out of, I don't think."
Without a doubt, a major part of any of these women's jobs is dealing with and pleasing students. Whether they work with students through serving them or working alongside them, CDS employees have a chance to experience the many sides of students.
Imitating students' reactions to her cooking, Baker scrunches up her face and points while saying, "What's that?" in a voice many of them have heard while wandering around Stevenson or Dascomb.
CDS workers feel that they put out good food. "[Students] don't appreciate the effort we like to think we put out. We don't intentionally plan our day to ruin food or be mean," Baker said.
The cooks also pointed out that they only cook recipes handed to them by management. Creating recipes and meal plans is not the job of the cooks.
According to Dascomb manager Ron Koshar, if foods are not well-received - or in CDS terms, eaten - they will be removed from the cycle. "We try hard, I think we give them a great variety of food," Baker said.
"It is very difficult to plan what 1500 students want to eat on a daily basis," Baker said.
Although the focus of the CDS workers' jobs is food, many prefer to see their job in terms of people rather than food. Jean Spiker, a salad preparer at Dascomb, said, "I like being around people, cooking, salad preparing. I just like being around people."
"I like my job, I enjoy doing it. It's just trying to please people," Baker said.
Several of the workers agreed that students have become much less friendly and respectful over the last few years. "When I first started, the students were into studying but they were more fun to be around. Students now don't crack a smile. They're real serious. You got a few that are fun to talk to, but nothing like they used to be," a snack bar employee said.
Loretta Edwards, lead lunch cook at Stevenson and United Auto Workers (UAW) representative at Stevenson, said that she feels like the current set-up of CDS does not allow for close relationships to grow between workers and students. "I think it would be nicer if we could get closer. Ten years ago we really had a close relationship with students," Edwards said. "Everything is so instant. They want everything yesterday."
There is a good deal of animosity among workers towards students who treat CDS workers without respect. "We're working with students younger than our children and when they are disrespectful and argumentative, it is insulting," Baker said. "You can only kick a dog so many times before it bites."
Workers cite times when students perceive the enforcers of the rules as the rule makers. Snack bar employees talked about times when they had to turn away students who had forgotten their validines. "They gotta understand. We just go by the rules, we don't make them," a snack bar employee said. "Unless my manager says let them in, I can't."
Another aspect that divides workers and students is the perceived class difference between the two groups. A snack bar employee imitated her perception of students: "`We pay $25,000 a year,' Well, you didn't pay me $25,000 dollars. Just because you - or your parents - pay $25,000 doesn't mean it belongs to you."
"Most students are pretty decent, I think. There are a few who think people are just there to serve them," Edgell said.
A major way that workers feel insulted is through negative comments toward their food and waste of it. As the group in Dascomb sat around, a student walked past them on his way to Dascomb's conveyer belt. On his tray was a glass and a half of untouched milk. Baker pointed at the waste. "[We] get upset. You look at all the food that we don't even produce that gets wasted - wanton waste of food," Baker said.
The workers do not forget that their jobs are primarily centered around food, but they do wish for more friendly, personal contact with students. "I know we work for them, but it shows more now. They have a very bad attitude towards the back of the building," Baker said. The workers did not feel negatively towards all students. "It's not all the kids, it's some of the kids," a snack bar employee said.
"There's a real mix," Edgell said. Some of the workers felt a need to conform to the politically correct world of Oberlin. "You have to check what you say all the time. Everything is a sexual harassment case or racial slur," Baker said. The kitchen's location in Dascomb exacerbates this problem as students can see the kitchen as they wait in line for their entree or vegetarian dish. Dascomb manager Ron Koshar called it a "glass fish bowl."
Another capacity in which workers interact with students is through the student employees in CDS. According to David Jensen, director of CDS, the ratio of full-time employees to student workers is one to seven.
Jensen sees the relationship between full-time workers and students as positive and important in the training process of student workers. "They tend to be parents, to play the role of pseudo parents," he said.
The workers said that student employees vary in competence. "Some of them's helpful and some of them isn't. Some have bad attitudes and some have good," Pilson said.
A student waitress at the Rat during lunch said she has had to adjust to working with the full time employees. "They seem to be pretty accepting of us. Once you show that you're not a student who is going to quit in a few weeks, they're pretty nice," she said.
As jobs go, most workers agreed that their jobs were stressful. Pilson said it was very stressful "because there is so much in the period of the day you have to accomplish. You have to please the customer."
Cornish said, "It's not hard, sometimes it's stressful. If there are a lot of people, it keeps you going."
Brian Dostol, a worker at Stevenson, said that some of his stress comes from a lack of the proper student staff. "It's tough to do your shift on top of theirs," he said.
Grapefruit madness: Fruit cutting is one of the many tasks of this CDS worker in Stevenson. (photo by Ariel Carr)
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 18; March 15, 1996
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