When I started college, I knew I was going to have jobs during my time there. I started working in high school, where I had a job I really loved at a paper store. It seemed natural to also job search when I got to college, but I held off the first semester in fear of overloading my schedule. Now in my second year, looking back, this might be my only freshman year regret, because the campus job I was placed in the second semester of my freshman year was one of the best things I did.
The job was with the dining services for Oberlin at the time. On a rainy Tuesday night I was notified that I would be working in Decafe, a small underground grocery store where everyone uses meal swipe money to buy things like mini pizzas, Yerba Mate tea, and the odd vegetable. Now with COVID, a fancy mediterranean dining hall has replaced the area where I used to stack boxed macaroni, but you get the picture. My only hours were 8pm-12:30am on Tuesday nights, and while that sounded like hell on earth when I received the email, it became the part of my week that I looked forward to most, even though on top of that, I was marked as a dishwasher.
Let me pause here to clarify that at the time I was a part of other clubs, excos, and had a roommate that became and remains my best friend. I was not some lunatic grappling at a night shift in an underground grocery store. I had other activities that I loved! That’s what makes this story so surprising (and heartwarming?), and hopefully strengthens my pitch for getting a student job at Oberlin.
My first day on the job was as overwhelming as you might imagine. I learned all the basic necessities of my job and was introduced to a collection of people I was worried I would never remember. A group of students would be finishing up their shifts around the time that mine began, so I had about a half hour of working with other students before they all clocked out. Chatting and working with people my age was fun, and they all became people that would greet me in the halls between classes or call out my name to say hi as I crossed Tappan Square, but the most extraordinary part of the job was definitely the people I grew close to after all the students checked out.
Beyond just student workers, a collection of adults from nearby towns in Ohio worked the major jobs at Decafe: chefs and assistants, and of course our manager. They all came from different backgrounds and towns and ranged in age, but were joined in common by Decafe and the long daily hours they worked together. Though they knew each other well, they welcomed me into their close-knit friendship, and I quickly began looking forward to 8pm on Tuesday night. Between rolling out dough to make mini pizzas and washing dishes with industrial machinery, our manager would walk by with a joke, or you'd hear two chefs teasing each other across rooms. I won’t include any names because I don’t have explicit permission to do so, but the intricacies of every friendship between this unlikely group of adults allowed me my first true sense of belonging at Oberlin. I became good friends with a guy who used to drive race cars, I supported one woman's separate makeup business as she launched it online. Over the weeks I learned about their kids, their worries, the things that were important to them and the things that shouldn't matter to anyone, and they learned about me in the same way. Two of the Decafe workers were even married and sparked an unexpected kind of joy during work as they bantered and joked with each other. Though it may have been an underground grocery store, I had found a group of people that invited me into their space and into part of their lives.
I found this same feeling at Azariah’s, the campus coffee shop located in the main library, where I currently work as a barista. And again the same feeling appears at the Art Museum, where I work as a museum attendant, bantering with students as I sign them in and sharing wise words on how to navigate school with the museum guards. Through these jobs, I have gained friendships I never set out to find.
In short, you never know what a campus job can hold, but if members of the Oberlin community are involved, or people from nearby towns in Ohio, I urge you to crack a few jokes, learn about their extensive life stories and possibly share yours.