Holiday 1 Chris Scalco: The Dark Knight of Building Sixty-Six When I sat down with Chris Scalco, a junior at the University of Central Florida, to talk about his civic engagement on campus, I was a bit skeptical. Not only because he was a complete stranger to me, but also because of why I chose to interview him in the first place: he is a Resident Assistant for the Lake Claire living community. Being a freshman myself, I believed my options to be quite limited based solely on the fact that I knew absolutely no one on campus who would fit into my narrowed and simply ignorant definition of someone civically engaged. So, I ran with the idea of a paid volunteer, hoping Chris would magically conform to my ideal image of a civically engaged citizen without too much twisting and flat out fibbing on my part. A few questions in and I started to realize something big: this guy was about as close to the definition of genuine as one could get. He didn’t give me the fake, pompous, or holier-than-thou responses I was expecting; instead, Chris provided me with very down to earth and straightforward views of his involvement and impact on campus. When asked why he decided to become a Resident Assistant, his reply was swift and certain: “It pays well.” He then told me of his freshman year here at UCF
Holiday 2 when he lived in Flagler Hall in the Libra community and how the “First Floor Flaglers, triple F… roll[ed] twenty eight deep where ever [they] went.” This charismatic and humorous portrayal of a group of friends was meant to symbolize the type of community that was fashioned between former strangers, simply by living on the same floor. It was this time in his life when he realized that he “really liked organizing people and building that kind of community… where everyone knew each other and everyone was comfortable with each other.” So, two years and a job change later, Chris finds himself the Resident Assistant for building sixty six, “answer[ing] to lockouts and noise complaints… [Looking for] just anything that’s completely out of the ordinary. Like someone laying down in the hallway… or beer cans.” I was curious about how he thought his residents perceived his work as a Resident Assistant; did he create a certain ethos to persuade his tenants that he was competent and able to do this particular job? So I asked Chris, “How do you look from your resident’s eyes?” He said, “I don’t know. I think different rooms have different perceptions of me… [I want] them to see me as someone who stays out of their way… A resource, that if you need me… I’m here. I’m a presence… But, not up in your face about things.” This statement made me question my earlier beliefs that civic engagement required an activist attitude; that vigorous participation is a necessity in order to
Holiday 3 enact any type of change or effect in the community. However, Chris takes a more passive approach. He established his ethos early—he is available when in need— but otherwise his job requires him to be a more “invisible” force against injustice… or “beer cans”. I then asked him to define civic engagement, to which he smartly stated: “Being engaged in a civic type of way.” But, of course, on the next breath, things turned serious and somewhat deep. He said, “If you have an influence on the lives of the people in the community, I think that’s being civically engaged. And I think if you are civically engaged, you should take advantage of it and be a positive presence.” Ah, the controversial idea of agency and obligation. As one source states about civic engagement: “Another way of describing this concept is the sense of personal responsibility individuals should feel to uphold their obligations as part of any community” (Ekman, Amna). I questioned his feelings of “personal responsibility” and his answer somewhat shocked me. He started off by indicating, “I knew that there was going to be [a Resident Assistant] no matter what.” Although a true statement, I was very curious to see where he was going with this, especially since I asked him about the obligation that he had to become a Resident Assistant. Yet he continued, “[But,] I really felt in my freshman year that I was good at organizing everyone and creating unity… a sense of family. I
Holiday 4 figured… if that really is a gift that I have, and I can do it pretty well and naturally, I should be able to give it back. There’s no reason not to. Why would I keep it to myself?” He knew that if he didn’t get hired as a Resident Assistant, some other student would. But would they be as qualified and motivated as Chris? Well, he didn’t feel like taking any chances. Basically, if you want something done right, then do it yourself: take agency. I quoted another definition for him which stressed that one must feel an “investment and ownership in the communities to which [they] belong” in order to truly be civically engaged, then asked his opinion on this topic (American Library Association). He looked at me, a strange glint in his eye, and said one word that forever changed my view of civic engagement: “Batman.” How true Mr. Scalco, how positively true! No more of an explanation was needed, so we moved on. There was an elephant in the room, and up until the last question I was not ready to look it straight in the eye. Alas the time came, so I mustered up the little dignity I had left and asked Chris if he is compensated for his work as a Resident Assistant, already knowing the answer. But that wasn’t my real question. I have always wrestled with the idea of how civic engagement and incentives melded
Holiday 5 together; if a volunteer could be paid and still consider themselves a volunteer. Are volunteering and civic engagement the same thing? Does having another reason to better your community besides agency take away from the good work that you’ve done or plan on doing? Do any of my questions have answers? Maybe. I brought up the controversy surrounding the requirements for the Florida Bright Futures scholarship, how Floridian students are being paid with scholarship money for volunteering and getting good grades, and asked these same questions. He said, “[Being paid] might take away from the initial reason for [volunteering]; you took the initiative because you had to, not because you wanted to. But, maybe eventually you’ll grow to like it, and if you don’t, the work you did was still done… You still affected somebody’s life hopefully in a positive way.” And isn’t that what it truly comes down to? The impact you made, the change you enacted, the new way of thinking you stirred. That is civic engagement. An obligation with one reward: a bettered community.
Works Cited Ekman, Joakim, and Erik Amna. Political Participation and Civic Engagement: Towards A New Typology. Ă–rebro Almby: Ă–rebro Universitet, 2009. PDF. "Keys to Engaging Older Adults @ Your Library." American Library Association. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Sept. 2012. <http://www.ala.org/offices/olos/toolkits/olderadults/index2>. Scalco, Chris. "Civic Engagement--Chris Scalco." Personal interview. 31 Aug. 2012.