There is a little narrative many of those within and outside the institution like to tell: If it wasn’t for the receptionists, the janitors, the assistants to the [insert whatever position here], this place just wouldn’t be functional. We claim these people and others like them “run the place.” Yet, for all of the narratives of the people who are “under” us truly being the foundation and glue that holds everything together, we rarely see and certainly do not ask them about the significance of their jobs, or more importantly, the significance of them as individuals.
When I began this interview series in the fall of 2014, my goal was to make visible those women in the Writing Center at Michigan State more visible. I did this because though considered minorities, writing centers are dominated by female consultants. About halfway through last semester, I started thinking: “I say I wanted to talk to the women of the Writing Center, but I never thought to talk to the receptionists or the assistants who work here every day.” Even though I, myself, engage in “playful banter” with them on nearly a daily basis, getting their thoughts about the Writing Center never came to my mind. In all honesty, I was angry with myself, or as I like to say “I was angry with my own self.” And because of this anger – and knowing I had an ability to change it – I decided to interview those whom I had, in my own mind, so wrongfully neglected.
The following is an interview with Writing Center Administrative and Office Assistant Judy Easterbrook:
Getting the Job
How long have you actually worked at Michigan State?
Judy: Forty-One years.
Judy: I was 12.
Of course. We won’t talk about the child labor laws or anything like that.
Judy: Exactly. They didn’t exist then. We’re talking horse and buggy days.
When you started here was there a writing center?
Judy: No. The Writing Center is twenty-one or twenty-two years old.
So twenty years into your time here came the Writing Center, so obviously you worked in previous departments. Did you do somewhat of the same thing?
Judy: I did, but I’ve always had more student involvement that I actually do right now. I worked in an academic department, so there was a lot of student involvement, which in some ways I miss, well in many ways I miss.
Well, you know students are right out there around the corner.
Judy: I know, but I can’t hang out there. Dianna will come looking for me.
So when did you actually shift over here?
Judy: I’ve only been in the Writing Center since 2010. What happened is a woman retired here who’d been here quite a while, she was half time and they moved me over here. Poor Dianna and Trixie. I was imposed upon the Writing Center.
Oh you were imposed?
Judy: I was, but they redistributed my duties and move me over here to take over this. The college did it.
That’s interesting. You didn’t choose to come over here, so how was it working here, since it was a new kind of space and not as much interaction? I mean, clearly you’ve stayed. So what is it like?
Judy: Oh, I like it. I like it a lot. The Writing Center is a great place to work, but it was an adjustment at first, it really was. I mean, when something, and probably not everyone is like this, but when something is imposed upon you, you think “grrr.” But, I’ve always had an interest in the Writing Center. In fact, when it was first created, I applied for a job in the Writing Center and I didn’t get it. How ironic is it that all those years later, I’m here?
You said you applied before because you had interest, so why did you actually have interest in the Writing Center?
Judy: I don’t know. I knew the women who started the Writing Center and from day one it just seemed like a really interesting space, and it still is a very interesting space.
With a lot of interesting people.
Judy: Right. It just seemed different to me from what I was doing before. Everybody needs a change once in a while and I wanted to work for the woman who had a hand in starting this, but they chose someone who had a lot more computer experience than I did, so I didn’t get it.
But the irony is you really did get it.
Judy: I did. They made me queen for a day a few years later.