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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Student by day, bagel-making machine by night

Published: October 15, 2010
Section: Opinions

As a student-worker, I often feel I’m living a double life. Throughout the day, as I walk around the campus in my jeans and t-shirt, I’m greeted with friendly “hellos” and I blend in well with the other students. Come night, however, as I put on my uniform, marking myself as a dining services employee, I suddenly change from “Alana, that girl in my class,” to “Alana, that bagel girl.” With that simple wardrobe change, I turn into someone who students don’t often deem worthy of respect.

I’ve been working at coffee shops since I was 16-years-old, so when I came to Brandeis I was quick to apply for a job at Einsteins Bros. Bagels. At my previous jobs I grew accustomed to occasional rudeness expressed by customers and I was looking forward to the ability to serve coffee to more appreciative students. I expected that students at a college would be much more respectful. I was quick to discover just how wrong I was.

One night the register broke. This problem was not our fault and could happen anywhere, anytime. The first student in line started to grow more and more impatient as my co-workers and I struggled to fix the machine until she finally said in a very brash manner, “Forget it. I’ll just put my food back,” and stomped out of line. Bewildered, my co-worker turned to me and said, “That girl was just in my class.”

My co-worker’s statement said it all: How is it that someone who treats us as peers during class time can turn around and become so impertinent when we become their server?

Another time, I overheard a student say to another co-worker “just put the bagel into the bag. It’s not that hard to understand,” after she had politely asked him if he wanted the bagel toasted or not. What gives someone the right to believe they can talk to us that way?

Students often give us a hard time for things we have no control over. Suddenly, it seems that what does and does not count as a meal becomes my fault. I cannot describe how many times I’ve been yelled at by students for explaining to them that the item they are trying to buy does not fall under the meal plan.

The worst is when people try to rush us. When there is a rush of customers, and I suddenly have 20 orders of bagels to make, it seems that students expect me to become some sort of bagel-making machine. I’ve heard students say, “If I had known it would take this long, I would never have ordered a bagel,” and they constantly ask me if I’ve made this-or-that bagel yet. In an effort to appease the students anxiously checking their watches as I attempt to grab a bagel out of the toaster or put a lid on a cup of hot tea, I’ve burnt myself quite badly. I cannot begin to describe how painful it is to accidentally pour a cup of scalding hot water all over my hand.

My experiences as a student-worker have deepened my appreciation for dining services employees. I admit that employees can sometimes be snappy along with the customers, but it truly is an eye-opening experience when one steps into the shoes of a dining-services employee for the first time. I know it might be easy to forget that we’re real people as you stress over tomorrow’s midterm. But remember, we too have papers due and exams to study for. Dining services employees are real human beings. And so, before you judge a dining services employee, try working an hour in front of that toaster.

My request is simple; show some respect. It truly makes my night when that rare customer tells me that he or she appreciates my hard work. Even a simple “Thank you, have a great evening,” can be music to one’s ears.