Walking a Mile in Your Shoes

March 27, 2019

What happened when Karu Kozuma, chief student affairs officer at Amherst College, and senior Megan Root ’19, shadowed each other for a week? Did Karu score while playing in a pick-up soccer game? Did Megan have the energy to keep up with Karu's packed schedule of meetings?


K.K.: I'm Karu Kozuma. I'm the Chief Student Affairs officer, and I oversee the division of Student Affairs here at Amherst College. This is my first year working here at Amherst and I took this opportunity to be able to share a program that I participated in with Megan Root, who's a student here. We wanted to have an exchange week, so to speak, and shadowing each other to be able to get a better sense of our days. So it was important for me as a person who works in student affairs to be able to figure out what students' lives are like, and the best way to do that is actually shadow one.

M.R.: I think after four years at Amherst, you see a lot of different things happen. You see a lot of decisions by administrators. You hear a lot of complaints from students about administrators. And Amherst in some ways felt really familiar to me, but some parts of it, I still really didn't know that much about. Somebody in a position like yours who works with a bunch of different kinds of students, works with a bunch of different staff and faculty, would have a really cool perspective on what goes into the average day at Amherst College.

K.K.: So I think we first started off by participating in a pickup game that you play every Friday, right? You pretty much try to go every Friday?

M.R.: Yeah. It's one of my favorite things. It's small-sided soccer in the gym. It's part of the wellness and lifetime classes that the gym offers. My coach runs it. A lot of players from my team are there. Since I am now retired, sad, it is one of my only chances to play and it is one of my favorite things.

K.K.: I thought I'd be the only a non-student. There were, there were a few other staff members there. So...

M.R.: Yeah, but a lot of people come, club soccer players come. We've had athletes from all different kinds of teams, and all different people across campus. And that's what I love about sports. It's just like everybody's there for love of the game. And it's a great chance to just do something you love with other people who also love it. And that's it been a really important source of connection for me on campus while I've been here.

K.K.:  I don't know if you had other staff members who had staff members show up with signs. So that was...

M.R.: That was new. That was just you. You are special in that regard.

K.K.:  It was a complete...so I took a picture, it just felt, and I did not pay them. So this is the group that just...

M.R.: Yeah, I saw them walk in and I was... (laughs)

K.K.:  Having folks root for me, although thankfully they didn't see me fall on my face because then they'd probably spread out to the rest of the division. But that was kind of fun to be able to see that...

M.R.: I think we both wiped out that day. That was not even near the ball and just like completely hit the floor. So you don't have to feel bad about that one.

K.K.:  But it was fun. I, so I took some action shots with, they can't see through the gym.

M.R.: There you are, you're ready to go. Maybe a little anxious about the experience.

K.K.:  Yeah. I think it was just good for me to be able to just have that sense of nervousness because it reminded me that a lot of context for students, whether they're transitioning to Amherst or they're transitioning out of Amherst, there is an element of nervousness. And what I think a lot of times is, students don't get to see that side of staff members. That I was completely, in some ways in my element of loving playing soccer. But in many ways, I wasn't in my element and I really did feel like I was, not necessarily encroaching on students space, but it was a student space that I want to respect and make sure that everyone knew that this was a space that was yours. and I felt really privileged to be able to be part of that.

M.R.:  What you say is interesting about kind of the dynamic there because a lot of times it's us entering a professor's classroom or somebody's office. So I didn't think about it that way, but having spaces that we own is kind of important to us. And I'm aware of the fact that it's easier for some groups on campus than it is for others, and that's definitely something we're trying to figure out.

I think the general idea of, we call it like breaking down barriers and crossing divides, we talk about that a lot. But thinking about like what that really means and what it means to step into somebody else's space for a little bit and see what the world looks like from there.

I think that's really important and something we could all kind of actively commit to doing more of in a lot of different contexts.

K.K.: So we did make an attempt to try to go to one of your classes. Mother Nature had a hater that it was the day that we had an early day because of the snow and that was the only one of four classes you're in. So I can only imagine what homework you also had in three other classes on how you balance your activities or interests, while also try and squeeze in a book or problem set or papers or exams that you have to study for. And it made me one appreciate that I'm done with that part of my life, but two, it made me also realize that it is an amazing opportunity to be able to think about all these different subject matters and think about how to be able to reframe how we look at life through the lens of a classroom or through the lens of work.

So it's, it's an important part that I think staff members should have, should remember that the learning component, it is the centerpiece. And what we can do to support that as best as possible is something we should be thinking about.

M.R.:  One thing I got a sense of attending a couple of the meetings that you have on a day and also trying to figure out scheduling with you of when you could come to things in my day, was a sense of how full, like your average day is. I got a taste of how many different people and groups and issues you're dealing with on an average day. And it seems to be pretty back to back to back to back as you go. And I think one thing that's interesting for students to consider. And one thing that I learned, is when we go through our experience, sometimes we get pulled in different directions by different things. But I go to the classes that I picked. I play the sport that I chose. I do the activities that I chose, I hang out with the friends who I decide to text. So we kind of have, we see our parts of Amherst, whereas somebody who's job is student affairs, deals with a lot more parts of Amherst. And, I think the one thing that was interesting for me to consider as like how much, what you have to try to fit into your day and then how you have to balance between the different groups on campus. And I got a sense of that in just, not only in the conversations that I heard, but also in just kind of seeing all the different things that would happen on a given day for you.

K.K.:  You got a chance to see some of the complexities of what we're trying to figure out and it's not necessarily easy thinking about what's right and wrong. Although I think is less complex in what we do day to day, which is sometimes about dealing with two rights. And what is a big need for one student or a student community may be in competition or go against another student community. And how we're trying to balance all those needs together while fitting in all the things we think about while supporting each other. I think has just been a reflection of not only how complex could be but also, how engaging the work can be. And I, and you know, having you be part of those meetings to see that was really helpful. We also even turned to you, I think a couple of times when we were thinking, well, what, what students think on this piece? And we had you to just ask you what you think. Sometimes they don't have the luxury to do [that ]in real time. We would have to try to seek out students or be able to wait for the next meeting. But having a sort of student right there to be able to give us your opinion perspective,
that was really helpful.

M.R.: I also appreciated the, I guess camaraderie would be the right word. I went to your one-on-one meetings with Norm Jones and with Biddy, which were super cool. You guys have obviously built up a relationship. That's really encouraging because as a student you're hoping everybody at the top is kind of working with each other, not against each other and you guys are very clearly are. But also the larger Office of Student Affairs meeting where we had a bunch of different heads of departments, they all clearly knew each other well and got along together well. You get in to the meetings where people are talking about the issues and they're lively and they're invested, and their thinking and asking questions and seeing that kind of investment, in the students and in the campus in making Amherst just kind of the best it can be was... made me optimistic.

K.K.: I got to see your breakfast. That was nice.

M.R.:  Yeah. So much of what we do isn't structured. It's like you're going to Frost, you're going to Val and you're meeting up with a group of people. Getting a sense of that time when we're not trying to get something done I thought it was important for you. Because like, what is life like when we're not trying to be productive when I'm not being a soccer player or being an LJST student or being a Comp Sci programmer. What does that look like? And fortunately, Veronica Rocca, who's great, was there to sit and like hang out and talk about stuff with us. And that's a great way to start my day not trying to get something done. I'll do homework and Val a lot, but my favorite breakfast are the ones where I can just sit and talk with people.

K.K.: It reminded me when, those vague moments you have in a day where you're not planning to meet someone when you see them, you catch up and then sort of spins into other things. Like let's hang out later on this weekend. Like those are moments that, we don't have too many of those unplanned moments anymore. And I think society has sort of emphasized having everything structured, make sure we're connected, make sure everything is deliberate. To a point where I think we just feel like we're always planning things, instead of just being okay with the moment. So I appreciated being at that breakfast and just hanging out with you and Veronica and just seeing all the different folks were passing through. And then gearing up for the rest of the day, which is probably going to be busy.

And I think you had a full day that day. I think you went straight from there. Class or work right?

M.R.: Usually do... Yeah. Pindar.

K.K.: Yeah, Pindar was great to see you be able to just organize at and mastermind all these connections.

M.R.: Mastermind might be an exaggeration. He came to watch me and the Conferences and Events Office set up for a Pindar Dinner. We do prep work of assigning seats at tables, creating checklists and documents, and just printing out name tags. Stuff that ranges from interesting to very much manual labor. And, it was, I think a good chance for you to see. That's something that's been a really important part of my time here. I loved working for Conferences and Events. Not just because the people in that office are great and it's given to be a chance to meet some staff that I would never have met otherwise.

But also because you go to enough Pindars, you go to enough speaker events, you go to enough things like Winterfest, you just get to meet a lot more Amherst than you would. And another reason I was interested in doing this, is just meeting as many people here as I can because I try to not underestimate how amazing this community is and the kinds of people that come here. And there's not going to be another time in my life where I am on a campus small enough that I could know you and
know the president of the college and get to know seniors that have been comp sci majors with for a couple of years now to freshmen who we only have one year of overlap. But they're in Amherst dance or they came to a Pindar dinner I hosted. And they're also a really cool person and I'm glad I got to meet them. So I love that about Amherst.

K.K.: Well, I mean that's why I'm here at colleges because most of my other friends, I think they have a pretty static group that they stick with. And they meet new people once in a while or they have turnover their jobs. But I'm continually meeting new people. Every year there's a new group of students coming in. And then trying to figure out who were the ones who are already here. And obviously with this being my first year trying to meet everyone is a new experience for me. But it's, I'm never bored. There's some times I wish I was less busy. Yeah. But I'm never bored. And partially it's because I get to meet so many great people and just get to figure out what makes them sort of be passionate about whatever they're passionate about or what questions they may have. And that's just a really intriguing component of Amherst which I appreciate.

M.R.:  One thing that I've become, became aware of in the experience is how many professors and staff and people on this campus I don't know because there's not really a time when you would meet them. You can't meet everybody here. We're small, but we're not that small. But I think it would be interesting as a community if we had more chances to see really, really different parts of Amherst. Not just like me meeting students. I wouldn't normally meet, but meeting Geology professors, because I hear awesome things about the Geology Department and stuff like that. I think that would be an interesting way to kind of build connections that, maybe isn't super feasible, I don't really know exactly what it would look like but isn't also something we've thought about before. Or at least something I haven't thought about before, but I am thinking about now after this.

K.K.:  I think for me the most surprising part probably for this sort of following you was how different your day may be within the day. So you pivot from a class to a job to then working on a project and then immediately after that I think you had a class to go to. So, the number of times that a student has to sort of shift their brain and their mindset is pretty, pretty crazy how many times you have to do that in one 24 hour period. And for me, this is still a job and there are different aspects of the job, but it's still under the umbrella of a, a job. So it connects, but you can go from practice to your job to then setting up for the dinner, then actually greeting people within a couple of hours. And what that takes, not only in terms of like clothes changes and those sorts of things but just making sure that you're in the right mindset. And I think that I sort of underestimated how often you have to switch in the middle of a day.

M.R.:  And one thing I was impressed with was, I have seen you at midnight, Val at 11:30 PM at night on campus, and I've seen you in SAC meetings at 9:00 PM and all times of day. So one thing that I kind of got a sense of was how much energy that probably takes. Because you can't walk into a student group, and some of us when we're in class are like heads on the desk and over staring at the teacher like this. And you can't do that if you're an administrator, and you're one of the people who's responsible being in charge. And so I got a sense of what that must take. And I was surprised by that because it wasn't something I had thought of before. In terms of what running a college and what being one of those people in charge, what that actually entails. That was surprising.

K.K.: While working with you and getting to know you, I got to see other folks as well. So that was great because you became partially a window to your own life, but a window to their lives as well. For me to be able to see what students lives are like are here.

M.R.:  One thing that I think's interesting, doing something like this, is you think about yourself, and your average day, and your life a little bit differently. Because I'm sitting down and I'm like, What should Karu come to? What would he be interested in? What do I do on an average day? And taking a moment to kind of think about that was actually really interesting part of the experience. Thinking about my life and like what's in there, and I prioritize, and how it balance, and how I structure.

K.K.: Although we'd lead potentially different lives between students and administrators, but there's a lot of connection there. You know, we're trying to pack on a lot in the middle of the day. Each of us are trying to figure out what the next step will be, but we're also trying to do something that hopefully we're not only good at but we actually are passionate about. And I think those are the important things. How do we find those connections? And whether there are differences, those differences could be used to make sure that we can find ways to grow closer together as a community. Because we can learn from each other.

M.R.: It's easy to feel like we're all in different groups and like doing different things and sometimes seem like we're all directly in conflict with each other. And I think we underestimate sometimes how many people are here that really care about the school and about this community. And want to work to make things better and work to help each other. When you take time to see what another person is working on or listened to them talk about it, that's when you really remembered that. And that was really valuable to me. And made me really optimistic for Amherst's future. Because I know we have a lot of issues and things we need to work on, but I think there are a lot of people here that are honestly, genuinely invested in making better. And you're one of them. And I think we can make change that way. And I think one of the most important parts of making that change will be continuing to talk to each other and not work away in our own little lives or own little groups on like are one thing. But just think about how we're all part of a connected community who's got a lot of things are different, but a lot of things that we have in common. And I think that can be really powerful.

K.K.: Well, thanks for taking that plunge with me to do this, I know it was an unknown sort of experience that you said yes to, but you didn't hesitate. You were like, yeah, of course. I'll do it.

I'll try it. I really did appreciate just having this window to your, to your life and, and being able to get to know you much better.

M.R.: Letting me into one on one meetings with the president and with Norm and into your office, your departmental meetings, was there a really unique opportunity for me. I never would have gotten that chance otherwise. And I learned things I never would have learned otherwise. And it was as welcoming and non-intimidating as it could have reasonably been. So that was really valuable and actually a very fun experience. So thank you.

K.K.: Thanks.