Oberlin Blogs

Not the Exception

March 18, 2010

Marsha Lynn Bragg

Ask graduates of any high school or post-high school program and most often they can give you the name of a teacher or professor who made a difference in their lives.

How about you? Do you remember the professor who allowed you to work alongside her while doing field research and then write and submit the findings in a journal?

Do you recall the professor who steered you to the area of study you truly wanted to pursue and helped you convey your decision to your parents?

Remember the professor who held regular study sessions in the student center, then treated everyone who attended to pizza and drinks. (Soft drinks, of course.)

Decidedly, teachers and professors deserve their props; they are the ones who help institutions attain name recognition and national reputation, key academic rankings, research dollars, corporate sponsorships, and individual donations, among other accolades.

Professors are not the only ones who can touch your life in a profound or meaningful way. What about staff? We function in a variety of non-academic roles, and our daily contributions add to the life and vitality of the institution. We behind-the-scenes people keep the place going. Really. We are often the ones who plan, coordinate, and organize programs, trips, career-oriented seminars and fairs, lectures, and the like designed to enhance the student experience on campus. We also fix and replace things, make the campus environmentally and aesthetically appealing, and make sure mechanical and technical resources are operational and fully functioning.

Granted, many of us do not work in positions where there is significant interaction with students. But many of us do. Think about people you've met in housing, food services, student health, safety and security, career services, athletics, in Mudd, the AMAM, the chapel, or computer labs, and other spaces. Some offices, like mine, have the opportunity to hire student workers who enhance our quality of life at Oberlin. It's great to meet and get to know real Oberlin students, so as to not have to rely on the neatly packaged images projected onto


magazine covers,

promotional materials
, websites, brochures, and even student blogs.


I recall the secretary in the journalism school building where I was a work-study student for four years: Miss Phyllis. She reminded us of a slight Miss Marple, the old British amateur detective from the Agatha Christie novels. But our Miss Phyllis was different: Dry wit. No nonsense. Ethical. Fair. Tough. Professional. Extremely efficient. Courteous. Practical joker. Fun in the workplace had its role, she reminded us, and she was careful to not let us cross the line. We worked in the reception area so she considered us the "face of the school."

She taught us how to treat everyone with the same measure of respect, regardless of his or her position, background, or relationship to the university. A student coming to the front desk with a question deserved as much attention as the faculty member who wanted us to type some correspondence (this was well before the advent of e-mail). She instructed us to give parents and visitors similar consideration, as it was our mission--apart for making sure our assigned tasks were completed on time--to make everyone feel welcome.

Earlier this year, a number of people paid homage to a longtime staff member, Maggie Terry, who died after 40 years of service to the college. Many talked about her influence in the lives of a number of Oberlin students, of serving as a surrogate mother, of her willingness to dip into her own resources to help a student buy books, and her kind and humorous spirit.

I'd like to think that Miss Maggie, as she was known, is not the exception, but the rule. Seems to me that our collective role should be to make everyone feel welcome and respected. I'm curious to know if a staff member has touched or encouraged your life here and whether you think your interaction with that staffer will be one that you look upon favorably in years to come.

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