Yellow light from the fluorescent bulbs glows hazily through the glass doors of the Holly M building, warming the chilly February air of the USF Tampa campus. A security guard strolls the sidewalk a few hundred feet from me. Campus is silent.
It’s 12:02 a.m.
Melanie Wiesen smiles widely as the door of Holly M swings open. Beside her, her colleague Josh Mallory sits in a rolling computer chair.
This night, the duo works from 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. at the Holly M desk, which oversees the campus housing north of Holly Drive.
Desk clerks work for the Housing & Residential Education, a division of USF Student Affairs. They issue temporary room keys and swipe cards to residents who get locked out of their rooms.
Although the job is very different from resident assistant positions, Wiesen explained that desk clerks are required to attend the same training programs and learn the same protocol for dealing with everything from security threats to students who are drunk and unable to walk.
“It’s a lot of responsibility,” she said. “In an emergency, we’re the ones with all the keys to residence halls. If someone with a gun wants to get into one of the halls, they’re coming to our office first.”
On the other hand, she said, the drunk residents can be quite entertaining.
“It’s tinged with sadness,” Wiesen said. “They walk in, and because it’s a small space, you can smell it. You can just smell the alcohol in the air.”
During the second shift she worked as a desk clerk, a freshman resident came into the lobby of Juniper-Poplar Hall supported by two of his buddies who soon left him inebriated and passed out on the floor near the vending machines.
After calling resident assistants and superiors, EMS arrived to take the underage resident to the emergency room for severe alcohol poisoning.
“Then the next weekend, I see this drunk guy who looks familiar stumbling into ‘JP’,” Wiesen says. “And it was the same guy that almost died. It was crazy.”
Most of the time, Wiesen prefers to work the late shift. She says it’s much quieter than day shifts, which are often slammed with residents coming in to the office in need of assistance.
She says the hardest part about the job is coordinating her social life and class schedule around work.
She says a lot of the people who work as desk clerks and employees of Housing & Residential Education are close friends out of the office. In fact, she helped Mallory get his job.
The two first met on the third day of classes their freshman year.
“I used to work overnight at Cracker Barrel on Bruce B. Downs cleaning and making grits, and I hated it,” Mallory says. “I got so fast at getting everything done that I would just line up chairs and go to sleep until my shift was over.”
He applied for the position during a period when only three new clerks would be hired and didn’t get the job. But one night four months ago when the desk was short a clerk, Mallory got a call from Wiesen, asking him to fill in.
Mallory says that although he gets paid minimum wage as a clerk and can no longer sleep on the job, he’s much happier.
“Most of the time we gossip for about the first three hours of our shift and then spend the rest of it watching a long movie or something,” Mallory says.
A few hours into the shift, the first student comes into the office in need of a temporary swipe card. But after she leaves, campus remains silent.
“This is how it usually is,” Mallory says after she left.
And with that, he clicks the mouse on the computer. Tonight, they watch “UP.”