“I don’t believe in stereotypes, but…”

I run to my dorm with 10 minutes to take off my jeans, red shirt, snow boots, and winter outer wear. I nervously fiddle with my keys to open the lock of my dorm door and once inside I throw my bag on the bed and begin to undress. At the same time I search for the black pants, boots, and formal shirt. I swiftly find all the pieces I need in my discombobulated room and place them on the bed. When I am there standing only in my underwear there is a brief moment in which I become aware of what I’m about to do. I am working as a caterer I no longer hold the position of student. My name no longer matters; my face becomes expressionless as I slip into the black pants, then into the shirt and finally one foot after the other my boots. All these actions are natural ones that I do on a daily basis with my clothes. However, when I wear my uniform for working in the servery, or to cater it feels different. I see that I push down the emotions that force my back to straighten my mind to go on autopilot. I sigh and turn to myself in the mirror. I take a moment to see the subtle change of character in which I look into my own eyes wondering if one of the lives I live in is the right one for me or if I can belong in both. While I have relieved myself of my duties as a student I take on the next challenge of identity. My uniform creates who I am.
When I step in to Kline I no longer see peers I see customers. The finalization of my change is in my hairband; I take my hairband out of my hair and release the tension of my situation while the layers of hair fall to my shoulders. Quickly, I neatly bring my hair back up into a pony tail check my outfit and make sure I have put everything together. I realized in those 7 minutes that it took to change and clean myself up, I see the school in a very different ways.
I get to Kline, as a student I go to the front door, scramble around for my ID while speaking to one of the staff sitting behind the small wall that separates her from us. She is clearly freezing because each day she is wearing her jacket even though there are double doors to keep the cold out. The smell of cooked food is overwhelming, fried, spiced, creates a distraction from the worker speaking to me and creates a form of anxiety to entire the room filled with dishes. There are three options from the entrance: Old Kline, New Kline (both seating areas), and the Servery. Old Kline is my favorite; the modernist look of New Kline reminds me of a cold miserable place. Old Kline has a warmer feeling, the lights are a bit dimmer and there are couches, and lack of windows which, creates a more home like surrounding. I go in there and sit at the green couch that is more inviting than it looks. People are clustered around tables mindlessly eating their food mainly focusing on conversation or nose deep in books. Then there is this one person. I have been watching him for days… he sits always near the couches and alone. He brings the food from the plate delicately in his hands and slowly places it in his mouth. His eyes remain closed for the entire process that he is chewing. His whole body seems immobilized by this one event that is going on in his mouth. Each bite creates the same reaction. With every sip he takes he seems to hold the liquid in his mouth for a few seconds before swallowing. It is as if he has never tasted the items that he has chosen for his meal. This in contrast to those sitting on the high chaired round tables and the low square, rectangle, or circle tables were when other students eat. It is more of a chore done for the body then a form of appreciation. Those stuffing their faces across from him and next to him look like they are having an angry battle with the food they barely chew before swallowing.
I move quickly into the next room, the servery. Here there are six stations: deli, salad bar, hot line, wall, grill, and pizza station. It is normal to expect greasy food from the grill line, all assortments for the salad bar and deli, pizza of different variations at the pizza station, warm vegan and non-vegan assortments at the hotline, and finally the drinks, cereal, waffle machine, bagel, and ice cream from the wall. Nothing is out of the ordinary except for on holidays like recently Valentine’s Day in which decorations are placed everywhere to create a pink and red aura. No one seems to notice the workers in their red and black uniforms bustling around students, cleaning after them, replenishing food, wrapping food to go, making small remarks to one another, inside jokes, angry complaints, and occasionally the polite discussion with a student. The kitchen is blocked from the student’s perspective so it seems calm and composed when in reality stepping in the side door you are constantly playing a game of duck, slide, twist, move, and watch out as a team of six cooks including the head chef and sous-chef are running around desperately creating meals. They work like a well-oiled engine; everyone has their recipe to contribute to the large buffet outside the doors which servers are constantly hollering for the next dish to be taken.
Next room: the teachers’ lounge. There are six round tables taking up the usual space made for rectangular tables. I clock in, I meet up with my co-workers and we stare at our directions given to us. I grab the table clothes slap one on to every table, my co-worker is dependent on my speed to place down the silver ware as another sets a plate and the glasses. My boss and another co-worker begin setting up the table for the coffee and caffeinated drinks. Finished. The hot dishes are coming out as the guest begin coming in. Awkward. I take a moment. There is an odd feeling of discomfort since for the first time I am still dressed as a worker but through my class I must participate in the event as well and play “the student”. I prefer the distance that is created between me and these smiling laughing people that surround me, the worker. I sit down and move constantly, ignoring the comments of the person on my right. I notice everyone is dressed for the event, hair well kempt, clothes unwrinkled and expensive looking, smiles that never seem to reach their eyes. I look over at my boss and feel her sympathetic eyes reach mine. I can’t take this stiff wooden uncomfortable chair. I get up and move behind the counter and continue to work. My boss insists I relax but I realize that it is impossible; I am not currently a part of the student bubble. I don’t belong. I’m not prepared mentally and I’m not wearing the clothing acquitted for this job as the student. I work until the speech begins and breathe again when the speech is over. They mingle as we clean; we are truly flies on the wall. People feel safe to say anything around us because we don’t have faces in the bubble, so all sorts of interesting clips of conversations are overheard. We finish, we wrap up left overs for us to eat diner. We clock out, share our fonder moments of the night and I go back to my room.
I undress. Take out the hair band. Take my shower. Put on pajamas. Open my laptop. Sigh. My name is Caroline Knop and I am junior here at Bard College, a student working currently on my homework for tomorrow.
The construction of this field site played its own significant role in this ethnography. Everything from the entrance that you use makes a difference in how you perceive the energy that is found inside of Kline commons. The “front” and “back” of Kline mean something completely different for a student then they do for a worker. As a student there is an entrance in the front that overlooks the campus and even has picnic tables to sit at and enjoy your meal. The back is a covered area that is great for the rain and snow seasons for smokers as well as a beautiful view of the rugby field that holds the commencement tent in the end of the year. For a worker the entrance and the exit are the loading docks which are secluded and also entertain: slop buckets, the recycling bin, the trash compactor, grease collector, and seasonal pets like raccoons, skunks, squirrels, turkey buzzards, cats, and birds. With the students being sheltered off from the grime of the kitchen remains, it was not shocking to hear misguided and clueless comments that were generated from assumptions of students. With the entrance giving off a smell of cooking food and the chatty student body the leisurely entrance is quite deceiving. Just like how people become desensitized by buying meat in a grocery store and forget that it was once part of a full cow, students easily take for granted the food provided for them as just a service and not for what it is, which is a small crew of hard working individuals slaving away to make mass quantity presentable meals for a student body that outnumbers them approximately one to one-hundred. The student body is not to blame for its ignorance, since they are not allowed through the workers entrance; however, what really is a shame is that there isn’t a way in which students can experience entering Kline Commons from the workers perspective. Students have created clubs to help create a relationship between the two groups; however, in the end if the student does not apply to be a worker, they will not truly be able to understand the work environment for Chartwells employees. This is simply because the entrances symbolize more than just the separation between the two groups, it envelops two different worlds that of the “Bard Bubble” and the “Chartwells Family”.
The Bubble and the Family are the most crucial terms used by many of my informants. I am not the first person to try to explain the Bard Bubble, trying to translate its meaning is completely based on an individuals personal experience of the Bubble. From my standpoint and that of a few of my friends and co-workers it is almost like a blindfold of reality placed on each student that enters this school. It allows each student to live their alter-reality of reality on a daily basis. Laws seem non-existent and therefore some common sense goes away along with it. Students act as they please, and even though it is all based upon completely selfish commitments to themselves, students seem to group up and stand up for causes and connect on common thoughts. Bard truly is a place to think because the student body often seems so stuck in their own thoughts that appreciation and connection to the concrete world seem distant and non-existent. Bard students are physically and mentally sheltered from the realities of life especially when it comes down to the area we reside in and the people who support and make the school function. This is the Bubble, a soft version of the real world that students commit four years of their lives to…

  1 comment for ““I don’t believe in stereotypes, but…”

  1. April 25, 2015 at 7:05 pm

    I like your thick description. It is very vivid. I thought it was a bit long, but I enjoyed the read. I would like to read an introduction, alluding to what you are doing an ethnography on, what your biases are, your methods, your hypothesis and what your results suggested. Finally the sentence in the last paragraph, “Students act as they please, and even though it is all based upon completely selfish commitments to themselves, students seem to group up and stand up for causes and connect on common thoughts.” I think using completely selfish is a little bit too strong.

    Keep up the good work though! It looks like you’re going to have a comprehensive project at the end.

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