Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three flights up

Today was move-in day for the new freshmen in my Honors program.  It's a day I look forward to each year -- an opportunity to demonstrate from the get-go what we're all about.  I go for two hours in the morning to haul their Rubbermaid containers, three-drawer organizers, new printers still boxed up, and endless mattress pads and pillows up to the top floor of the Honors dorm.

By doing so, I'm saying: You matter to us.  I'm an administrator with a fancy title; I've got letters after my name; the last time you saw me, I was pontificating about ideas and you were furiously taking notes.  But today I'm in shorts and a sweaty t-shirt, dragging those industrial-size containers of detergent that your mom scored on her big going-off-to-college Wal-Mart run up three flights of stairs to the blank-slate dorm room that will be your home for the next nine months.  Today I'm serving you.

The day has changed dramatically since I started participating ten years ago.  Then there were basically two groups of volunteers assisting freshmen to move in: Student Orientation Staff in their orange shirts, and faculty and staff in purple.  Now every frat, sorority, church group, and campus ministry descends on the poor 1700 freshmen and their parents, probably outnumbering them three to one, grabbing their furniture and pushing literature into their hands before disappearing out the suite door.  There's plenty for everyone to do, but I feel like the message I'm trying to deliver gets diluted.  Today I toiled in relative obscurity, greeting parents and freshmen but rarely seeming to be recognized, despite the central role I played in their admissions and orientation processes a few months ago, despite my name tag.  There are too many people and too many groups swirling around looking to grab recruits or at least brownie points.

I resolved to get less exercised about the situation this year, and hence I worked more on carrying stuff and getting my stair workout in, less on being visible or audible.  If nothing else, the non-freshmen working in the dorm today -- the mentors, residence hall staff, and members of those many volunteer groups clogging the halls -- saw me and got the message.  I showed up when others in my position would not have.  I did my part and made my case, noticed or unnoticed, for the nature of this organization and the relationship its constituencies should have to each other.  It's the best I could do on this increasingly chaotic day.

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