STORY BY ANNA ZAVELL
Having a job requires a lot of skills. What most employees aren’t trained for is dealing with awkward situations, except for one job on campus, the phonathon callers.
Callers come across all types of conversations. Sometimes, responses or answers to the general questions of “Why did you choose Drake?” “What were some of your favorite things about Drake?” or “Can you share any advice or tips with me?” are unexpected. It’s luck of the draw as to who a caller gets to speak with during his or her shift.
“I have never been so blatantly told ‘no’ by an old man in my life,” said sophomore caller Stephen Franzen. “The conversation started off rocky. The man I was speaking to was 85 and very hearing impaired. I had to repeat who I was more times than when I first moved to Drake as a first-year. When he finally understood who I was, he was more than willing to talk about his time here on campus, and mostly, his wife. After eight minutes, I asked for a donation. I was ready for a very simple no because of the long pause on the other end, but what the old man said left me speechless. He said ‘my wife and I are both in our mid-80s and living off of Social Security and in diapers. So no, we cannot give you any money.’ That was the strangest ‘no’ I have ever gotten, but it oddly lifted my spirits because of how funny and odd it was.”
Callers talk to all kinds of people. The chatty Kathy, the grumpy old man who hangs up the phone and the sweet old lady who wants to hear about your time. Sometimes the stories that callers hear are inspirational.
“I was talking to a really nice guy who graduated in 1957 who told me a very shocking story,” said first-year caller Natalie Chin. “He was explaining how when he went to Drake, every applicant had to take a test that would determine if he or she got into the school or not. When he got his results, he saw that he was not accepted, and attended a different university. He later found out that he was not accepted because, at the time, Drake had a quota about letting in African Americans, which restricted his ability. He brought this to the school’s attention and did later attend Drake and graduated with many accomplishments and also asked to teach on campus. I thought his story was amazing and made me feel inspired for the rest of the day.
The most uncomfortable situations arise when people share just a little bit too much information.
“I was talking to a guy who was in Greek life, which seemed to be his favorite part of college,” said first-year Meghan Walters. “He explained that Greek life was very different during his time, and described it more as like ‘Animal House.’ He said that him and his brothers decided to throw water balloons over the fence or balcony of their house, except the balloons weren’t filled with water. They were filled with pee. It definitely was something I never want to experience in my life.”
The worst is dealing with death.
“My first phone call during my first shift was definitely memorable,” said first-year caller Julianna Baalson. “The lady on the phone proceeded to describe her method for suing a nearby hospital because her husband had recently passed away. I didn’t know what to do.”