The Brandeis student body is populated with students from all over the world. We have students from Tajikistan, Turkey, Australia, Montana, Singapore, South Dakota, India, California—the list goes on. Even if you are a student from Massachusetts, or five minutes away from Brandeis, a just-about universal part of being a student at this university is living away from “home.” The majority of students live on campus, and we spend around eight hours a day on campus if we don’t. There are workers on this campus that care about making this place feel like home, caring for us with our best interest in mind, as our friends and family at “home” would. They treat us as they would treat their own children, far beyond their job description, and spend their time at work thinking of and trying to remedy our struggles, stress and tribulations.
Michelle Pallone has worked at Brandeis for 21 years and currently works at Einstein’s. Michelle expressed to us that, although she has six kids, “You guys are like our family. We have a family at home but we come to work and you guys are like our family here…I have like 3,000 kids!” This sentiment not only showcases Michelle’s immense care for our well-being but also a larger philosophy in which the workers’ treatment of students actually reflects the often thrown-around phrase “Brandeis community.” This care is reflected in the exceptional service and care provided by workers; workers like Michelle, Sofia, Nikki, Raisa and Marie at Einstein’s Bagels. As Michelle notes, “I know you guys are in classes struggling…we are working as fast as we can.” The workers on our campus, noting the humanity and stress of us students is a testament to the quality of their care. They do this without always getting the same amount of care back from us. As students, how many of us can honestly say we treat the workers on campus with as much compassion as we treat our friends, family, friends of friends? Though I am sure many of these readers will answer yes, in light of a recent article, it is clear that this sense of community is not a unanimous feeling. We must, as the student body, commit ourselves to change.
There are many students here that appreciate the workers on our campus, students who see the family-like environment behind the cash register and recognize how foundational that sense of care is to our community. Jared Yaghoubian ’21 looks forward to seeing David Wong at Einstein’s because “he gets to know me and he cares.” These stories provide a small glimpse of the many unique friendships between students and workers on this campus. Students can see the “family-like” environment behind the cash register, that everyone is helping each other out. Michelle values this work environment, saying, “If the cashier sees the sandwich person struggling, they’ll go over and help. It’s good teamwork. We all get along. Everybody helps everybody.”
It is clear that everything Michelle says is driven, first and foremost, by compassion for us, even when—especially when—responding to our apologies that some students do not adequately appreciate them. Michelle’s compassion must also be our compassion. The workers are human, bogged down with their own stressors, yet still trying to “come in with a happy face and serve our family.” Our students care about human beings, care about injustice and exude warmth. This op-ed is a call that we also carry those characteristics to involve every member of our community, not just our professors, students and alumni. Michelle and other workers love working here and love the students. It is the Brandeisian way to extend our thanks, give appreciation back to the workers and take an extra moment to soak in everything they do for us.
Not only are the workers genuinely caring, but they are also extraordinarily talented at what they do. From Einstein’s specific bagel and coffee combinations to Currito’s demanding burrito structure, the workers have boundless knowledge of their craft. This can be seen in the care they take with each meal and the way that they can juggle thirty or more hungry students during their busiest times. Even when they forget an order—as is bound to happen with so much going on—they immediately take the time to rectify that and send the student on their way satisfied.
If we place more care into our understanding of our workers “behind the uniform,” if we look up instead of down, and ask them about their day, as they do for us, the Brandeis community can move towards truly personifying its “social justice” values.