Elon marks Labor Day with celebration of university's workers
A panel discussion on Labor Day in Whitley Auditorium offered insights from those across the university who work to support students, faculty and staff. The discussion was moderated by Sherry Lee Linkon of Georgetown University.
Members of the Elon community gathered in Whitley Auditorium on Monday to offer a Labor Day tribute to the scores of people whose tireless work around the year — and around the clock — has made the university what it is today.
"What we do, we don't do just for the students," said Scott Rivera, a gardener with Elon's Landscaping and Grounds Department. "We do it for everyone in the community. We want this place to be beautiful, and we do all we can to make that happen."
Titled "The Unseen Labor of Elon's Working Class," the panel discussion included participants from a range of vocations who work at Elon, with moderator Sherry Lee Linkon, a Georgetown University professor and founding president of the Working Class Studies Association. The Labor Day program was sponsored by Elon's Consortium of Diversity and Inclusion Content Experts and the Office of the Provost.
Linkon, a professor of English and faculty director of Writing Curriculum Initiatives at Georgetown, focuses her research on how work is portrayed in literature and noted how the variety of definitions of the word "work" demonstrates the range of what it means to work today. Beyond providing a paycheck, work offers an opportunity to interact with other people, as well as a sense of self, with working for a university offering a unique opportunity, Linkon said.
"Our students are not our customers — they really are the people we serve," she said. "Work brings us together around shared goals. Many of us, no matter what kind of work we do, believe our work matters because it serves our students, along with our community and the world at large."
Michelle Campos-Gregoris is catering director for Elon Dining and explained the challenge that can come with juggling more than a dozen — sometimes several dozen — events each day. "It is very important to pull off everything, meeting a certain level of expectation, and with pride," Campos-Gregoris said. "In the end, we have the same goals — we want to make our guests feel welcome."
In her role as coordinator of violence response, Felicia Cenca said that her work very often comes with confidentiality restrictions, making it difficult for some on the outside to understand the work she is doing as she helps provide resources to those who are the victim of violence and harassment on campus. The reward comes in assisting people during a difficult time and helping to create on campus "a space where people can be their best selves."
Linkon said that regardless of the type of job someone performs, they bring to it a set of professional knowledge that helps them in their work. Rivera said landscaping and groundskeeping staff bring a range of skills to their jobs, as well as a wealth of experience, with some of his colleagues notching more than 20 years in service to the university. Rivera has been with the university for 13 years.
Responding to a question from the audience, Rivera acknowledged that it might appear to the outsider that maintaining the grounds of Elon's campus is accomplished in an effortless manner.
"It might look effortless, but it's not, by a long shot," Rivera said. "We strive to stay a little hidden, but it's certainly nice when the work we do is acknowledged. We all do things to make this a better place."
Quiqui Lang Hilgartner, an adjunct instructor in the Department of World Languages and Cultures who graduated from Elon in 2010, said she has worked in a variety of jobs as she pursued first her undergraduate and then graduate degrees. Working with students in the classroom, she's focused on making the most of that time together and building relationships with students. Juggling those different responsibilities that accompany the ones she has as an instructor while focusing on teaching while in the classroom, can be a challenge.
"As a teacher, I really believe that students, when they come to the classroom, I am there to engage with them," Hilgartner said. "It's our time."