Professors and the office spaces they occupy

Bejan Siavoshy

Office spaces have a dreary look to them, even here at CSUN. The closet-like working area, the institutional colors or the stale air is enough to drive a proletariat into utter boredom, causing said worker to diverge from the path of productivity and, probably, onto the internet, watching YouTube.

But there are professors and faculty members here on campus who dare to defy the lack-luster confines of their workspace by putting their personal touch into decorating their offices, creating an environment where, instead of a sigh being the general reaction to staring at an office wall, one can show a smile, feel inspired or maybe even get some work done.

One such person is geography professor Steven Graves. Along with the shelves of books and pictures of his family members, Graves has something in his office that no other teacher at CSUN has. The back wall of Graves’ office holds his unopened soda bottle collection from all over the country, including a few beverages that have made their way across oceans before having a place in his office.

“It all started with a discussion about barbecue,” Graves said about the origins of his collections. It happened one day about three years ago when he was lecturing in a class, talking about the regional specialties in food and drink around the country and the reasons for their uniqueness.

“I was telling my students about the differences between barbecue in the south and what we call barbecue in California. That summer, a student of mine went to North Carolina and came back with these two bottles,” Graves said as he held up the first two beverages of his collection, a red colored soda called “cheer wine” and a yellow one called “sundrop.”

“Apparently, when you are eating barbecue in the Carolinas, they will ask you ‘Would you like Cheer Wine or Sundrop?'” he said.

After each “regional differences in food and drink” discussion was held in his classes each semester, word spread and more students would come back from other places with another beverage that Graves could add to his collection, which just caused it to grow and grow. “I have brought several of these (bottles) back from trips I’ve taken, but it doesn’t take long when students bring you stuff,” he said.

Graves admits that bringing this collection of soda bottles to his office was not his first intention for them, but as these carbonated souvenirs started to rise in number, there wasn’t much room or appropriate space for storing them at home, or as he put it: “My wife said no.”

But Graves has received nothing but positive feedback for his bottle collection, as it has not only become an integral part of his office, but a catalyst for inspiring discussion among passersby who might not have looked twice had the collection not been in there in the first place.

“People who normally wouldn’t normally stop here will stop and it sparks a conversation about geography,” Graves said.

Other professors have taken the same liberty to accent their own office spaces with a unique item that mirrors their interest.

Philosophy professor Takashi Yagisawa put up a Japanese doorway curtain called a noren. The noren has a black and white design on it depicting samurai Yoshitsune Minamoto, along with his companion and warrior-monk Benkei, two legendary figures in Japan’s history. The style of design itself is originally meant to be on a kite.

On a trip to the country several years ago, Yagisawa purchased the noren from a store in the city of Sendai in northern Honshu, the main island of Japan.

At first, Yagisawa intended to put the noren somewhere in his home, but the style of doorways in American houses doesn’t accommodate a noren easily.

“I couldn’t think of anywhere I could put it at home, so my next thought was that I was going to put it in my office,” Yagisawa said.

Yagisawa rearranged his office so that the back of a bookcase faced the doorway, where the noren was first placed. The faces of Yoshitsune and Benkei greeted each visitor to Yagisawa’s office, which was always acknowledged first with surprise, then with compliment. Eventually, Yagisawa rearranged his office space again, this time placing the noren on the front of a bookcase against a wall, facing his desk. This way, he can enjoy the noren as well.

“The noren has a striking, clear, visually stunning depiction of these historical characters. I’m glad I can share it with my students,” Yagisawa said.

Anthropology professor Sabina Magliocco is another professor who has made her office more interesting with decorations.

Magliocco’s motivation to spruce up her work area was simply, “I spend a lot of time in the office,” she said. “I at least want to have something to look at that isn’t just bare wall.”

Her anthropology work has taken Magliocco across the globe, a fact that is easily seen by the pictures that adorn her office walls. “A lot of these are pictures I have taken from field sites I’ve been on,” Magliocco said as she pointed to one of her several photographs from a highland Pascal community in Sardinia.

Along with her own photos, Magliocco has postcards and photos she has received from other students on their anthropological travels throughout the years in her office. The countries captured on her walls range from Indonesia, to Italy, where she was born.

Magliocco has also set up a shelf with pictures of positively influential figures throughout her life, such as past professors and colleagues.

“When I’m feeling down or sluggish, I can just look up and feel uplifted or inspired,” Magliocco said.

Along with her more lighthearted decorations, like the pictures of her cats, the miscellaneous toys placed around her desk, the Sigmund Freud bobble-head and action figure, Magliocco wishes she could have more liberty with her office space.

“If we were allowed, I would put in some curtains, a nice carpet and paint the walls maybe yellow or orange, some bright color,” Magliocco said.

Technically,Professors aren’t allowed to put so much as a nail into a wall without consulting with the university, which in turn contacts CSUN’s Physical Plant Management Department and ask them to send someone to put the nail in. This is because the University has made an agreement that all maintenance work on campus will be done by the Physical Plant Management Department, including professor’s offices. This is so the University doesn’t contract work to a cheaper labor alternative.

A decorated workspace isn’t specific to the offices of professors. Radiology technician at the Health Center on campus Raymond Solis has turned his x-ray room into a rainforest themed cove where no wall space is void of some type of tropical imagery, complete with plastic songbirds that chirp when you walk by. Even when lying on the x-ray table, the patient is greeted with scenic pictures as Solis asks them, “Where do you want to go? Pick a place and your eyes will take you there.”

Solis said, “This is so my patients can relax. It makes the whole x-ray process easier for them, and that makes my job easier as well. It is a win-win situation.”

Another place on campus to see a unique sight in an office space is the terracotta statue standing in a corner of the administration office for the College of Arts, Media and Communications.

Standing at a little more than six feet, the statue displays an ancient Chinese soldier in battle armor. The statue was donated to the college many years ago, but no one in the office knows who donated it. Both administrative support coordinators, Elaine Alvarado and Karen Sabbah who work in the office say that the statue has been there since they started working there.

Sabbah recalls her first encounter with the terracotta soldier two years ago, “When I first walked in and saw (the statue), it startled me like no tomorrow,” she said. But after being around it for so long, both Sabbah and Alvarado express their admiration for their cohabitant. “After a whil
e, I was impressed by him,” Sabbah said.

While most of the feedback is positive regarding the statue, Sabbah remembers one critic who was not too comfortable with being in the same room as the statue.

“A woman came in with a little girl, and the little girl froze when she saw the statue,” Sabbah said. “Then she hid behind her mom because she was scared.”

“You see people walk by really fast, then backtrack to see it again. The usual response is a ‘whoa’ and a double-take,” Alvarado said, that response is typical of all good decorations.