Horticulturalist Susan Tripp aims to enhance the campus experience of others through empathy, compassion and genuine connections.
Someone walking around Elon University’s campus might hear a random voice from a garden of flowers simply saying, “Hello, I’m Susan. How are you doing today?”
It’s the voice of Susan Tripp, a horticulturalist who has worked in Facilities Management for 11 years. By its nature, her position doesn’t depend on interactions with students, faculty or staff. But in the way she approaches it, Susan builds connections with other members of the Elon University community.
“When I started working at Elon, people would walk past me like I wasn’t there,” she said. “I thought to myself, ‘I’m not invisible. I’m going to say good morning to you.’ And I started speaking to everyone.”
Elon University’s campus is regularly recognized as one of the most beautiful in America. In 2019, The Princeton Review ranked the university first for its beauty. This is largely because of the people like Susan who maintain it, tirelessly caring for plants, replanting flowers and removing fallen branches among other tasks.
She understands her role can be isolating, so she surveys for people who might feel the same. “I’m out here by myself all day,” Susan said. “If you walk past me, I’m going to acknowledge you. And I look for students who I feel could benefit from a special hello.
“I reach out and invite them to lunch,” she continued. “Elon has a lunch program where we can take a student to lunch for free and we can just sit and talk to each other.”
Susan aims to enhance the experience of others, regardless of the roles those people fill. “Life is hard. I hope to make somebody feel better about themselves. Actually, gardening has become secondary,” she said.
Focusing on the needs of others developed as she focused on being true to herself. Her experience with sexism, ageism and homophobia previously caused Susan to shut down. “I reached a point where I decided not to tolerate anyone disrespecting me, and I started being myself,” she said. “Then, I got more confident and started speaking up.
“I’m going to do my work and be silly because that’s who I am, and I don’t care what people think about me,” she said, “but when I see other people being abused, I have to speak up.”
Susan is a representative on the Staff Advisory Council, a body that facilitates active and direct communication between staff employees and President Connie Ledoux Book and provides a forum for input and discussion of issues important to the staff and the university. “When I joined the council, I knew I wasn’t good at the clerical duties, but I would show up and speak up for people,” she said.
“It’s important for people to be able to be themselves, and in society, it seems to be getting more difficult to do that. Elon University is very accepting, but there is a lot more work to be done so we are all seen,” Susan said.
Susan’s participation in creating a more inclusive campus through empathy, compassion and connecting with others is the essence of inclusive excellence.
Susan is part of “Huemanity of People,” a series by the Division of Inclusive Excellence that celebrates the diversity of Elon’s community to uplift the values of inclusion and equity.