When the Beloit College administration invites men and women in suits to advertise for potential employment on campus, we owe them an equally professional décor—a façade at the very least. I do not mean that we should all dress formally for the occasion and I do not even expect that, if the professionals decide to schedule a presentation on campus, students should be obligated to attend the presentation. I do expect that students present themselves in a manner that represents the college, upholds the integrity of our school, and, frankly, doesn’t make me want to rip my hair out.
Last week, four different corporations who have received bids to work at Beloit College, including our in-house dining service were invited to campus. Ten or so professionals from the three outside firms, constituting their business’ various departments, gave presentations that summarized their interest in working at Beloit, the qualities that their firm has to offer, and their plans to improve the overall dining experience at the college. A question and answer session followed the presentations. As I write this article on a Wednesday afternoon, having seen one presentation and heard about another, I can confidently say that the presentations have been informative, interesting, and disastrous. Beloit College students, we were disastrous.
As a chemistry major, I feel unqualified to give a lecture on Professionalism 101. Yet as a human being, I feel compelled by my moral compass to list the wrongdoings committed by Beloit College students last week. First principle of Professionalism 101: an interview is a two-way street. The interviewer is subject to judgment as much as the interviewee. Imagine yourself as an interviewee surrounded by strangers, sitting in a foreign building, and the first question asked to you is, “You don’t really care about the employees at your firm, do you?” The interviewer made a big mistake by asking that question, because you were the most qualified candidate for the job and you have just flicked them off and left the room for good.
What actually happened was worse than the situation described above. Sodexo’s Q&A session kicked off with an accusation of human rights abuses in England.
“What exactly will you do to ensure,” began one Beloit College student, “that the kind of abuses against labor that have occurred in London by your corporation will not occur here?” The Sodexo representative stared blankly. “And I wonder what your opinion is on that and, um, how you would prevent such things from happening here?”
The question is not great but not terrible. It’s true; we would not like to work with a company known for human rights abuses. At the same time, our administration invited this company for potential food service employment, and we owe it to our administration to use professional etiquette and avoid inflammatory remarks that could embarrass our institution.
In reaction to the response given by the Sodexo representative, the same student held the company responsible for an alleged incident in which “a manager locked a female employee in a closer for two hours.” The student then closed the conversation, saying, “Well it has happened to your company already, thank you.”
The student’s intentions were disingenuous. Rather than obtaining the company’s opinion on a justifiable issue, the student made a public, blatantly incriminating remark.
Later in the same Q&A session: “I have kind of an odd question,” prefaced a different student. “I would like you to go through all of your representatives present today and tell us what kind of cars you drive.”
I do believe in free speech. I believe that students have the right to bring up legitimate concerns that involve our school. Perhaps if the companies had solicited employment without our compliance, the phrasing of the questions listed above would have been appropriate. But that is not the case. Dean of Students Christina Klawitter and the members of the Food Task Force have worked painstakingly to extend invitations to companies that they believe will improve our dining experience. Before arriving on campus, the companies drafted blueprints of the future of Beloit College dining to share with students. We owed it to these companies to act professionally, to ask them questions in a respectable manner, and to appreciate their time. We did not do that.
Here’s what we did do: We ambushed and charged them of human rights violations. We openly accused them of not caring for their employees. Instead of asking them to elaborate on potentially innovative food policies, we asked them what kinds of cars they drove. We slapped their hand away and spat in their faces. We begged the administration to improve campus dining, and when they offered a solution, we recoiled with our inimical, self-righteous “liberal activism.” We could have said no thank you, but instead we wet ourselves and had a temper tantrum.
Where is our professional equanimity? Have we lost all of our class? The Beloit bubble is illusory; we do not live in a vacuum. When the administration invites professionals and visitors to come to campus, we should act like adults and, at the very least, give them a hospitable welcome. If we have a problem with their visit, we should tactfully bring it up with our peers and administration. Barking in the faces of our visitors and parading around with flyers that compromise their dignity does nothing but humiliate our institution as a whole. The interviewer also gets judged, and boy, do we ever deserve to be judged.