Jan Beebe and students at Luncheon

by Laura Berglund ’20

Beginning-of-the-week bagels, Wednesday Treat Nights, and a smattering of monthly events like Coffee Houses, the annual Fall Luncheon and English Honors Society events provide opportunities to feel at home in a building that could otherwise feel unwelcome outside of class periods.

Because we recently celebrated a new semester with the Fall Luncheon, featuring Thai Thai Street Food, I met with Department Coordinator Jan Beebe to learn about the inspiration behind the event.

We began our conversation around the luncheon itself, and I was surprised to discover food trucks are old hat for Beebe.

“The very first year where I was planning the event, I brought in a food truck. And I was familiar with food trucks because I love food trucks. And I learned that, if you approach a food truck that’s newer in the industry, they are much more willing to negotiate price with you…We pick a couple of items off their menu, and then they can just focus on that, they don’t have to be prepared to serve everything, so that reduces their cost. We negotiate a menu that meets our budget and that is doable for them.”

Beebe ensures the event is a positive space for members of the English Department community to gather by making arrangements with the business owners.  

“I negotiate with the food truck to have a certain amount of food that allows for not only for our majors, minors, faculty, students in classes. Obviously, we can’t do the whole campus, but we try to be inclusive of students who are just taking an English class. Or we have a lot of English alum on campus or in the surrounding area, so we invite them.”

The invitation also extends to folks across campus whom we affectionately refer to as “friends of the department.” While it is by no means exclusive, Beebe mentioned Career Exploration, the Department of Multicultural Life, and Alumni Engagement because “they’re part of our community and we’re grateful for their role with us.”

Food trucks expand the range of cuisine options that are accessible on or near campus and encourage participation as a result. However, the outdoor space we use for the Fall Luncheon has additional advantages.

“Being outdoors… it allows for mobility. You are not just stuck with whom you’re sitting. You can move around and interact with a lot of people. Standing in line becomes an event as opposed to a problem… so if they’re standing in line they get to meet new people — people they may not have chatted with.” 

It was exciting, but not a complete surprise, to learn that Beebe’s efforts to create welcoming spaces stem from her background as a social worker. 

“On a side note, being a social worker, I’m very aware on campus about the concerns about mental health and stress issues for students. And I think having a place where you feel welcomed, and included, and a place to be is helpful in our ability to address issues. I don’t mean this as a counseling center in any stretch in that, but here’s another place where you are welcome. And I just feel that that’s helpful”. 

These goals push Beebe to be mindful and creative with department funds and campus-wide resources so the English Department can be accessible to as many community members as possible.

“So why food? The reason is it might get people there, but it’s not their biggest take away. It’s usually who they’ve met, who they’ve talked to, having a moment where they’re not stressed about classes, but in fact they’re just enjoying themselves with other people. That’s a big gain.”

Opportunities that alleviate some of the pressures of student life can take a variety of forms, but Beebe often incorporates food into English events to accommodate busy schedules while encouraging all forms of well-being.   

“We don’t want [students] to have to decide to not come to something because they need to go eat. Or to skip dinner in order to see a talk. So often we include some level of food so that students can not have to make food decisions: either missing the event because they have to get food or missing a meal in order to participate… So often the things are over lunch or right during dinner time.” 

“I think including food allows more participation. I don’t think anybody ever comes just to eat and go. And if they do, maybe that’s what they needed at the moment. But, for the most part, it helps them come, it gives them something to do. Maybe they can say ‘I need something to eat,’ when maybe they need something else, but that they’re not more aware of.” 

There’s no shortage of reasons to stop by an English Department event. You’ll leave feeling satisfied in many senses and with the talents of Jan Beebe, this legacy won’t change anytime soon. 

To learn more about upcoming English Department events, check out the department’s calendar!