Interview by: Carolyn Burnham
Maggie Robinson is an Oberlin native and has worked at the College for over 35 years. She is currently the Manager of Academic Operations and Assistant to the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and has worked for many different departments as well. Robinson is passionate about serving as secretary for the Oberlin Community Youth Scholarship Fund and serving on the Elyria YMCA Board. After becoming involved with The Oberlin Project and getting to know David Orr, Robinson developed a deep belief in sustainability. She not only talks to her four children and 18 grandchildren about the earth and climate change, but also her friends, co-workers, and neighbors. She believes educating yourself and others is the most important action to take for a more sustainable world. Robinson takes small but important steps herself every day to save energy and water, and even walks around in her home in the dark.
Q: What is your preferred name?
Q: How long have you lived here in Oberlin?
A: I lived in Oberlin sporadically. I would say for a total of 25 years, but I’ve worked in Oberlin for 35 years. I’m in Oberlin so much.
Q: Did you grow up here?
A: I grew up in Oberlin, then I left, went to school, got married and went somewhere else. I came back to Oberlin for maybe 10 years. I’ve been away from Oberlin for 20 plus years. I still live in Lorain county, but because I work in Oberlin and I love coming to the activities at the college, I’m in Oberlin quite a bit.
Q: How did you get involved in the college?
A: Well trust me, it wasn’t a plan. I had always worked for the government, so when I relocated back to Oberlin, my plan was to continue working in the government. My retirement is a different type of retirement. The day that I decided to go out and look for a job, there was a big snowstorm. Every place was closed in Cleveland, Lorain, and Elyria. I came back into Oberlin and I saw a light on in the college and I said, let me just put in an application to say I put in an application. I was hired and my thought was, I’ll work a little bit, take some time off and find a job. It sounds very cliche, but to me it’s such a great place to work that it’s 35 years later.
"Working here is how I learned about environmental issues"
Q: Would you mind elaborating on why you like working here?
A: I like working here because it has helped me to grow. Working in the offices that I have been, I have learned so much. Working here is how I learned about environmental issues. Not just that, the speakers that come to Oberlin are so rich in knowledge. Those are the key things. I’ve worked in bad offices, I’ve worked in good offices, but as a whole I’ve had a good experience here at the college. And, bottom line, in Lorain County, the factories have all died out. Initially, I was going to try to get a job with Ford or General Motors or the Steel Mill—that’s where my siblings worked—and they said, “You don’t want to do that. Go to school," and so I went away to school and then I came back.
Q: How did you get involved with the Youth Scholarship Fund and the Elyria YMCA Board.
A: So the Youth Scholarship Fund, someone on the board asked me to join it. When I learned about how they select students for scholarships, it just kind of hit home. Basically they provide scholarships to students who wouldn’t otherwise get a scholarship. Students who have struggled maybe their first couple of years in high school and at the end of their sophomore or junior year they realize, “Oh, I want to go to college.” So you see this gradual academic change. Also, their FAFSA scores are low, so combined with a need and the realization that they do want to further their education, those are the students that we provide scholarships to. And each year it gets tougher and tougher because there are so many bright students out there who haven’t received scholarships. It’s fulfilling to be able to say, well, let us help you a little bit. The Y-Board is geared towards empowering women and I believe in that.
Q: What words or images would you use to describe Oberlin?
A: Historical, forward-thinking, diverse.
Q: What do you feel is most important to you in this community? Or, what do you love most about this community?
A: Opportunity. Education. I mean, there are so many opportunities that you can just take advantage of. Even in the elementary schools, they have programs in the summer, they have the SITES program. The people that are brought to the campus for convocations—there’s just so much opportunity to learn. I truly believe that the college embraces Oberlin’s educational system and tries to afford every opportunity for them to come to this campus, or for the campus to go into their school system to help them.
Q: Have you taken any classes at the college?
A: I used to take classes at the college, and then for some reason every time I tried to go to my classes, there would be deadlines to be met in my position and my boss would always say, “This is not a good time for you to go.” So I got discouraged. There was a class that I really wanted to take, it was a seminar. Even though I got coverage from a student assistant to cover me, there was still an excuse for why I couldn’t take it. So that discouraged me and I finally gave up.
Q: I am really sorry to hear about that. What were the classes you were interested in?
A: I’ve taken some in Africana Studies. I’ve taken some religion classes. Those were very interesting to me.
Q: Given that sustainability can be a pretty broad term, what would you say it means to you in your own life?
A: Well, I can tell you what I practice. I walk around my house in the dark--I’m so serious. I try to use as little electricity as possible, I try to educate my grandchildren and tell them about power and electricity. I wait before I wash my clothing to try to do it at once instead of putting in a few pieces of clothing. I time my showers, I’m in and out in five minutes. I recycle cans and my neighbors recycle. I talk to people about the earth. I really talk to people about the earth, and not to litter, and about the landfills. Now everybody is drinking bottled water. No, get a container and put the water in a container--something that doesn't have to be thrown away and fill up landfills. At one point in my job I was really connected with the Oberlin Project and really got to know David Orr. So I heard about so much from David. There are so many things we can do as a people. Even in our purchasing habits. I mean, carpool. Don’t drive by yourself, try to have more people in your car if possible to reduce emissions. When you go out to eat, take it home and eat it again. Those small practices really make a difference. I always ask people at work, “Do you leave the lights on at home?” People will just go to the bathroom and leave the lights on. Turn off your lights. Or you don’t have to turn on your lights-- it’s daytime. You don’t need lights. Maybe I get on people’s nerves a little bit, but it’s important.
Q: What motivates or inspires you to take these actions?
A: Working alongside David Orr and realizing where the world is with global warming. You can see the changes now. Watching documentaries on T.V., I want my grandchildren to live in a safe world where there is more access. Everything is so limited. There’s no water, for instance, in some places. You can only have water “X” amount of times a day. I don’t want them to have to live like that, but they are going to.
Q: Is there anything you would like to tell your fellow community members regarding care for the environment and sustainable actions?
A: I would say the best thing to tell them is to educate themselves. Unless you really sit and listen to it, they don’t really know it. Google it, read about it, watch documentaries on global warming. Go to lectures at Oberlin when they bring people here to talk about it. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure it out.
Q: For my final question, have you had any interaction with the Environmental Digital Signs around town and campus?
A: I don’t go into places around town, but I do pay attention to the orb right outside. One time we were having a competition in the building and no one ever came in and told us if we won! I was trying really hard to win that competition. Last year we had this big community day in Tappan Square. I did ask John Peterson if he would come and do the Dashboard Display and I was happy that he brought the dashboard. He and [Sam Hartmann] were able to talk about it to community members. To me, that was a great way way of engaging people and for them to understand it.