When I had to profile one person’s head of hair I was a little worried. Hair is not something I pay much attention to. I think hair is often the complimentary feature of beauty, but there was one girl in the student center in particular that stood out. In this case it almost seemed like headliner in what was an altogether compelling gestalt. The hair was a pleasant natural black with no highlights or anything else. It was black as pitch from the roots to the end of the curls. The curls are the really most compelling part of the hair. Each curl seemed to have its own pre-ordained path. Each curl knew where it was going and stayed its course. Sometimes curly hair seems to be at war with itself, but this hair was different. It was not just curly; it was curly in the way that rotini is. It was cascading down little by little, down her neck and covering her ears. I would say it rested on her shoulders but well—it did not. Last week it must have been resting on her shoulders but it had grown ever so slightly and was on a slow descent down. It was a length no hairdresser would necessarily leave a cut at but one that just worked. When she turned her head to face me I found something else interesting about her hair. Her hairline was high. It was not like she was George Costanza or anything for goodness sake, but it was high. I think it made her hair more or a gentle and graceful oval shape. The curls were very defined so the gentle oval of her hairline was an important contrast to have. When she turned her head the curls also ended up resting unevenly now. One of her ears was exposed and the other was still covered by the hair. I was wondering whether or not she noticed, or even cared but then she tucked the second curl behind her ear and adjusted the purple hairband I hardly noticed was there at first look, and at that point I realized I had been staring and it was best to politely avert my eyes. There was still a lot to see in the student center.
I though the whole experience of taking down jottings and trying to experience the student center from a different perspective was great. I am abundantly comfortable in Campion, but I have always viewed it as a place to eat and talk to my friends. In some ways that is exactly what it is but this experience helped me look at the dining room as an entire ecosystem of sorts. It’s not like the cafeteria caste system portrayed in the movie Mean Girls by any stretch of the imagination but it is a fascinating little look at the organized chaos that I take for granted three times a week/ It was interesting especially in the morning because the atmosphere changes as the day goes on. The conversations were on a Monday and a Wednesday that I observed. I wonder what they would have been like on a Friday night, or at Saturday Brunch. The conversations were also different based on who the students or dining hall workers were obviously. I missed a big opportunity to put myself out there as an ethnographer and record more observations by asking questions about people and their experiences in the space and why they were behaving the way they were behaving. I drew no attention to myself, so what I heard was authentic, but that authenticity would not be distorted if I was not a fly on the wall. A good ethnographer should push people a little bit and find introspection and reasons for why things are the way they are in a certain environment. Some things just are of course. I struggled describing the smells and the sights because so much of it just seemed so normal to me. With practice it is my hope that I become more discerning, because there is a lot more to the dining hall than meets the eye. I found that out, but I can keep finding that out with more practice and energy to learning how to become a better ethnographer. I had fun with my jottings, but a concrete way I want to improve for next time is to have better jottings, because there is a lot I observed, but so much more that I missed.
Scene 1: The Freshmen
There were six freshmen sitting at a table in the fish bowl, which is the extra room in the student center if the dining room is crowded. They are speaking in hushed tones at the beginning but you can tell they are excitable. Four of them are boys and two of them are girls. They all want to get alcohol into their dorm. They do not know when the next time they are going to drink is going to be because fall break is fast approaching. The big thing is they do not know what they want to drink. One of the girls chips in vodka. They all not their head like its bobblehead night at the ballpark and a stiff wind just blew through. What type of Vodka? No one says but it seems like it has become gospel. Vodka! Vodka! Vodka! The brand name could be anything from Grey Goose to Burnett’s. No one says but I’m betting towards the latter. The next question is how do they get it into the dorm. No one wants to get their bags checked. One kid says he always gets his bags checked on Thursdays and Fridays and that’s the only time they can move it in so he shouldn’t do it. One of the kids wearing a Yankees jersey offers to do it, he just does not know who they are getting it from. They all look at one of the girls who seems to be the one with a connection in the form of faulty plastic with her picture on it or some upperclassmen. She says she knows somebody and the gust of wind goes through the stadium again. It seems like everything is settled except what night to drink it. If they get it today they want to go tonight. The quietest guy mentions he has a test so he’d be out for tonight, then the girl without a connection chimes in. They’ll just have to settle for after fall break it seems like.
Scene 2: Spill at the Cereal Bar
I remember thinking it was weird that the girl put her milk in before her cereal. What a brazen an bizarre thing to do. I do not know why but I found it borderline offensive. She put in milk and then she goes for the Captain Crunch. I’ll commend her there for her good judgement. She pulls on the little lever and instead of just the Captain the entire division seemed to fall right into her milk. It hit with a little impact and the milk splashed. She was flustered and while flinching she forgot the Captain Crunch just kept on flowing. By the time she recovered she had milk on her forearms and cereal on the floor. She shut off the cereal deluge and got visibly frustrated. I was too busy taking notes to realize I should have helped her here, but I also have to admit the whole exchange was just a little bit amusing. There were a group of dining hall workers eating quickly during their break and they noticed too. They seemed half-amused and half-annoyed, as one of them would very likely be cleaning it up later. Thankfully though the girl started clumsily starting to clean her own mess, cupping the cereal and putting it into another bowl. She did not have a dustpan and brush to get every last bit, but she did a respectable job. Sure she messed up, but those cereals fly out of the dispensers in the dining hall. We’ve all been there before, but she was a nice enough girl to clean it up. She put the discarded cereal on the conveyer, and she disappeared from sight. Maybe she wised up and got some Oatmeal.
It was 10:30 on a Wednesday in the student center cafeteria, and the smell of bacon and syrup was unmistakable. It smelt like any diner in America, but the sites were unmistakably of a college. The students were all wearing college gear, even if it was representing schools other than the ones that they were actually at. There were yoga pants and t shirts with college logos on them, other college’s logos strangely enough. Another recurring motif is sports teams, with the Yankees being the most prominent because they had won a big game the night prior. There are some people that are better dressed though, one girl is wearing fashionable white pants and a blue blouse. As she eats her home fries she gets ketchup on her white pants and her day was ruined. I’m sorry but I couldn’t help but smile. Also in the category of accidents there is a spill at the cereal bar. Golden Grahams are all over the ground but thankfully the student picks it up so as not to give the employees more work to do. Two employees are on break eating some of the food they prepared. They are eating it really quickly and not talking much. I walk down to the other side of the dining room and into the spillover space called the fish bowl. This is the place for people who want more peace and quiet. They sure have it. You could hear a pin drop in the fish bowl. Most people who are by themselves are on their phones. A group of freshman , 4 boys and two girls, are also talking about the next time they are getting drunk. They are really going into detail and planning every aspect of what they want to do. Who is gonna buy the drinks? What are they drinking? The consensus seems to be vodka. Nobody says a brand but vodka is definitely what they are going for. Also in the fish bowl is a girl wearing a skirt with various different types of birds on it. Two girls are also sitting quietly gossiping about some guy we’ll call B. One has long blond hair and the other is wearing curls obscured by a purple bandana.
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