Amanda does facilities at SSU (everything from fixing walls and buttressing staircases to making beds for Park Hall guests). She also cooks part-time at SSU. She’s a force of nature– she’s brought SSU buildings to life in recent years, through her practical work and also through her connections with students and senior community members. Around every corner, you can see her commitment to detail and her eye for making nurturing, creative spaces.
Matt: What are some things that you’ve been thinking about that you’re looking forward to?
Amanda: Feeling like there’s a place for everybody. Up until very recently, things have felt very stagnant and polarized. It felt like differences between students weren’t dealt with well. So being open to and affirming of different faiths is super exciting to me, and it falls into line with my personal beliefs.
The idea of having more students, obviously, feels very exciting. I always have dreams for improving spaces and beautifying places and making people excited about the space that they’re in– it’s constantly on my mind. But you can’t do that without a larger student body.
Overall, SSU just felt like… it was dying. Old ideas were making this place die. It needed new life, and that’s what this feels like…. It feels like we’re keeping some of the good stuff that we’ve had– community living, different ways of approaching learning– we’re keeping that, but we’re doing it in a fresh way.
Katie: I’ve heard a lot of people saying something like, ‘It aligns with my own beliefs, now’. How did it work for you, before? Part of you made sense here and the rest of you you kinda kept back?
Amanda: For my whole life, I’ve felt like there were things I believed internally that I couldn’t speak out loud. For example, I wasn’t allowed to believe that homosexuality was ok. I felt like all people are good people, all people are accepted by God, but I couldn’t voice that. So I would go to church with this feeling that I was a hypocrite inside. I would feel like I was being false. It would be similar, here, in that I felt like we were turning a blind eye to certain things, like not being affirming. I was really important to me to be affirming, but I felt like I couldn’t voice it.
Katie: In terms of facilities, how does something like becoming affirming affect your work? Earlier today I overheard you talking about figuring out dorm layouts now that we’ll have more non-binary students.
Amanda: Last summer, I put up an all-gender sign for the downstairs bathroom, and I was told to take it down. Just last summer. I was told, ‘we’re accepting of all people, but we’re not about to fly a flag outside our door.’ I was really upset by that. Then we had Generous Space here last summer, and the minute Wendy Gritter walked in the door, she saw the sign and her whole face lit up, and she said, ‘you put up a sign for us!’ I wanted to cry, I was so happy. I’d refused to take it down, without actually saying that I refused to take it down. I said, ‘this goes against what I believe in– if you want this down you’re gonna have to take it down yourself`’. It never got taken down.
Anyways, so I’m sure recent shifts at SSU mean changes, in terms of facilities, but I don’t find it a daunting thing to think about. I don’t think, ‘oh my gosh, how are we going to deal with this?’ You just have to ask the right questions, of people who are going to need those spaces. Being transparent about something is good. And so saying, ‘we haven’t done this before, we’re new to this, what does this look like? What do you need?’
Katie: What feels possible now that wasn’t before?
Amanda: I would love to see us move towards being a sustainable place. Working on building the garden, getting people outside and using the space, doing sports or whatnot. If we could get a bit bigger with more diversity, there could be a lot more interests. I would love to see this space feel more campus-like. Students wanting to actually get out of Park Hall. Things growing right outside this building. You can walk down into the greenhouse and garden from the dining room. I have big dreams for this place, but you need money. You need a bigger student body.
I love problem-solving. Making all the different types of people we’ll have here comfortable in their space. I don’t know what it’s going to look like, or what might come up, but we’ll just ask the questions. That’s how you figure it out. I don’t think people should make assumptions before they’ve asked the questions.
Matt: What about what’s happening really makes sense to you? What feels organic or natural to you, as opposed to an imposed decision or change?
Amanda: I think this applies to all of life: there’s a natural cycle, where you have to get to this place of stagnation, of everything feeling old and not-relevant… I think we’d come to that place and we were struggling in that for a while, at least a few years. Something had to break that, which feels organic. I don’t think it’s just a financial thing. It’s not just because of our low student body. I think it had to happen because we were in this… valley, and the natural pattern is to go in and out of valleys. It’s an organic thing, to come back out of the valley. Little ideas get the ball rolling.
Matt: What do alumni need to know about that maybe they wouldn’t get from afar?
Amanda: They’re really encouraged to have a voice here. They should know that that’s a genuine invitation. Also, they should know that what’s happening is not meant to diminish what was before. We’re not trying to erase our history; we’re trying to use that and come up with new and exciting ideas.
One of the things I was missing at the first alumni meeting in the spring was more voices. I really wished there were more voices. I think it’s important, when making changes like this, to actually encounter necessary questions. I would have loved to hear more challenging questions. So come on out. Bring all your questions and wisdom and life experience.
I think alumni got a very unique experience here at SSU, and type of education. They ARE our history, so their voices are really important. I don’t think this university is like any other university. I think alumni voices are important in preserving that. It’s saying, ‘these are the things–the core things–that are important. Let’s protect these things.’
Katie: What do you want to see in a new leader or leadership structure?
Amanda: I really like the idea of a cluster of leaders. It brings multiple voices, and it’s so different from the hierarchical way it’s been. I’m glad that time has been given for the vision to solidify. I think that whoever the leaders are, they need to be really on board with the vision. I’d love to see a group of people that were excited about SSU, and dreaming about what it could be. Fresh ideas. A very strong presence. Interpersonal skills.
Katie: Thoughts on the real or felt absence of women in power at SSU?
Amanda: I still remember my own interview here. I got hired on Kendall’s recommendation, but I think they were afraid to hire me, ha. Maybe not thinking that as a woman, I would be capable of this job. And that has definitely changed. I feel like I’ve been given a lot of trust.
Katie: As a female contractor, it’s not like you weren’t used to having people look at you twice. But your story is a great example of a woman filling a role at SSU better than anyone ever has, whether or not that’s recognized often enough. Or compensated appropriately. 🙂
Amanda: I would like everyone here to be able to personally succeed. Everyone needs to be paid what they’re worth, here. Every single person in this place should be paid a living wage.
Katie: And we’re just talking Charlotte County living wage, ha.
Amanda: It’s really frustrating. That definitely pulls down morale in a place. When you’re struggling to make ends meet, it doesn’t matter how much you love SSU, how much you believe in SSU… if you can’t actually sustain yourself on a personal level, it starts to fizzle.