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Susan Kaufman Headshot

Observations From Behind the Counter

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You don't know me. I work behind the counter at your university's campus center. I make your sandwiches and wraps. Sometimes I even work at the cash register. I wear a baseball cap and that ugly unisex tee shirt. I also get paid heinously low wages. I am your local employed college student.

Because I am a girl who loves to shop, eat and give gifts, it is extremely difficult to find spare change to fund these hobbies, especially without a regular babysitting gig, something I took for granted while living at home. Thus, I was forced to look beyond my perceived skill set and apply for a job at my university's campus center. The campus center houses a variety of dining options and a student-run café. I have found my niche at The Commons, an eatery that offers a variety of food options, from sandwiches to sushi and everything in between. I work twice a week, for four-and-a-half hours each. It is an understatement when I say that those are the longest four-and-a-half hours of my life.

I have never worked in the food industry before. To be honest, I hardly knew how to make a decent sandwich before I started working at The Commons. Moreover, I was not at all used to the dress code or the random requirements -- I'm not allowed to wear a watch, nor am I allowed to have my hair in a ponytail, but I can have it in a braided ponytail. I don't think I'll ever quite get the hang of it, especially because "sandwich maker" was never one of my dream jobs. Even so, I find it most humorous when my friends and classmates will wander in to The Commons, in search of a quick bite or a hearty meal and they won't notice me. Some walk right by me, others do a double take before exclaiming, "Suze?!" to which I disgracefully look up, put on a happy face, and nod, as if there was no place I'd rather be than right behind that counter.

I am not embarrassed to be working there, per say, because jobs are a part of life, I am more embarrassed by how shocked my peers are to see me working there. It is as if there is some divide between students and employees. Even though we coexist and interact on a daily basis, people are always shocked to find that I work at the campus center. They can never fathom that someone with whom they go out, grab meals, and do homework, could also double as a glorified lunch lady on Sunday and Wednesday nights. Well, surprise! I do. Even though I would almost rather go unnoticed, I enjoy the new perspective that being a food services employee gives me. I can look at my peers almost from a distance, safe behind my barrier of cold cuts and sliced cheese. I see diversity, I see hungry minds (and bodies), and I see people who are realizing that the faces peering at them over the counter are people, too.

I feel like a bridge -- a bridge between the two very different demographics: the anonymous food services employees and the well-educated college kids. Though I have only been working at The Commons for a few weeks now, I already have an infinitely greater appreciation for my coworkers than I did when I first started. And I hope that my peers may better understand and appreciate the work of these nameless employees because they have now one of their own amongst them.