Today I received a phone call from someone who said: “I didn’t know who to file a formal complaint with so I just called your office.” This is a common occurrence. The title of my department makes people believe that we have all the answers. And we do. Obviously, because as I stated before, I am always right. It’s the main reason I was hired. Under the “skills” portion on my resume, it states “all-knowing and always accurate.” Being right all the time also means that I’m fully aware that I am not the sound board for certain types of complaints. Thank god.
Complaint calls are always fun to listen to because it’s usually something we have no control over. We receive a lot of complaints regarding financial aid not disbursing. Only to find out that their aid was suspended because they failed all their classes last semester. Those are the best calls. It’s amazing to me how many people have no clue. “So you guys just suspended my aid because I failed a few classes?!” Uh yeah, that’s how it works. I also get a lot of “Well no one told me” and then I look at the file and not only were they told by an advisor but they were emailed as well, sometimes two or three times. I get a lot of blank stares. Reading is hard. Listening is harder.
After a year and a half, I find that the ability to maintain empathy is the hardest part of what I do. There are some days where I feel totally numb. Today’s complaint consisted of a student telling me that she was walking through campus and was appalled by large, fairly graphic images of aborted fetuses on display. A small anti-abortion rally was being held on campus. She was not only horrified but was also offended by the fliers that were being handed out. She didn’t understand why our institution would support an organization as vocal and offensive as this.
She then started to weep uncontrollably and vent about current hardships in her life and felt that she was being judged by the people hosting the display. I’m a counselor but not that kind of counselor. I’m not really good with other people’s emotions, let alone my own, and honestly didn’t know how to respond to her hysteria. I attempted to awkwardly console her with “Of course, I understand how you feel. I’m going to go ahead and place the complaint on your file. Unfortunately, we do not handle this type of complaint and I’m going to direct you to the appropriate department.” I transferred her call to the student union so they could take note of her stance regarding the display.
I have to admit that the first thought that popped into my head is: Oh god girl, you’re a mess. The world is going to kick your ass. It’s going to swallow you whole and not even think twice. I felt for her situation, I get it, she’s had a rough time lately. But, she’s an adult. The world is full of offensive, in-your-face organizations and societies. Pick your battles girl or you’re going to exhaust yourself. Maybe she missed Free Speech Week in elementary school. You know, the week where you and the rest of your classmates parade around the track for 30 minutes on Friday and get to eat hot dogs and proudly dawn your blue ribbon. I clearly didn’t forget. I not only love hot dogs but I love free speech because I have no filter.
This is not just a work issue though, I see it happen on a daily basis. Just last week I’m standing in the customer service line at Publix and hear this man screaming at the poor girl behind the counter because it was the second week in a row that this store, his store, was out of his favorite Greek yogurt. Are you joking me? Really? Poor girl. She offered him a “Rain Check” but he would not let it go. It’s just yogurt. There’s another Publix three miles away and Fage is better than Yoplait, hands down. He stormed out threatening to call corporate. She just rolled her eyes and mumbled, “I need a minute” to her coworker. AMEN!
People love to complain. And I’ll admit, I’m one of them. I’m really good at it sometimes. I just don’t know why people think they can take on The Man. I’m incredibly apathetic toward stupidity. It’s one thing to have something presented to you that may drudge up certain memories or feelings from the past. It is totally understandable to need to take a moment and use a lifeline to call a friend for consolation. It’s another to become unhinged and want to project those views onto a third-party and feel the need to file a complaint.
I followed up with the advising office that I transferred her to make sure that she was able to get through to someone. The office informed me that they did speak with her but simply informed her that as an institution of higher learning we reserve the right to uphold the power of free speech and the views of their organization in no way reflect the views of the University. Obviously. But sometimes you have to really spell it out for people. They directed her to the counseling center. Not surprised.