Walk into Benzing on any given night and you just might find House Director Emily Barnum talking and laughing with a few of her residents, or you might find her washing her hands after dumpster diving to find a student’s wallet. Both are likely circumstances.
Barnum is also manager of the new coffee shop, Penny’s. Barnum graduated last May with a Bachelor of Arts in Greek. She also was Head Resident Assistant of both Olds and Mauck during her time as a student.
“I just kind of knew that’s what I needed to do, so I did it. I didn’t even know why I needed to do it. Then I started doing it, and I thought this is the most meaningful thing I have ever done.”
Barnum worked and formed relationships with many students on campus through her RA positions.
“Working as an RA, I got to know a lot of people,” Barnum said. “That’s been really helpful, because residence life is fundamentally, besides keeping the building and rules, relationship building. I think through being an RA in previous years, I built good relationships with people I work with now.”
Barnum said one of her favorite things about being a house director is her own availability.
“While I was a student, I always wanted to be available for people, especially as an RA,” Barnum said. “You want to be there for people all the time, but then you have papers and classes and school always hanging over you. It’s been really refreshing to be available pretty much 24/7.”
Nevertheless, during Barnum’s time as an RA, her residents knew they could come to her with anything they needed. Junior Annie Ingham was a freshman when Barnum was Head RA of Olds.
“I would always look at the RA calendar to see if she was sitting desk,” Ingham said. “There’s a water bottle filling station by the RA desk. I would go and fill my water and see if she was talking to someone. If she was talking to someone, I would go take it back to my room.”
Ingham would wait a few minutes, dump out her water, go back to the front of olds, and see if Barnum was still engaged in conversation.
“I just really liked talking about her day and hearing about her life,” Ingham said. “It gave me a lot of peace and comfort.”
Ingham said the way Barnum conducts herself is why she felt drawn to it in the first place.
“She is just really open and understanding,” Ingham said. “She’s very wise. It’s really evident in the way that she carries herself. She’s always open to receiving people and open to listening. People just need that. Also her relationship with God, that just centers everything, transcends everything, and impacts everything.”
Perri Rose Force ‘17, who runs the The Grotto, the on-campus Catholic ministry center, said she’s gotten to know Barnum this year. While she never knew Barnum as a student, the two have become friends quickly.
“She’s so kind and so generous,” Force said. “One day, she was just like, ‘If you ever need help with Convivium, I’d love to help.’ Tim and I had just been talking about how he was going to be coaching and couldn’t be here for Conviviums. I was just really stressed out about it and she just offered that.”
As manager of Penny’s, Barnum spent a fair amount of time working with Assistant Dean of Woman Rebecca Dell to get it off the ground. With the shop now open, Barnum stocks, does inventory, and trains baristas, among other responsibilities.
“I think it’s cool to be able to do something tangible,” Barnum said. “Being part of something that’s creative and uses problem-solving and you actually see the results. You actually hand someone a cup of coffee.”
Barnum credits much of Penny’s aesthetic to Dell, but also said her love of Greek has allowed her to appreciate design.
“One of the things I love about Greek is how beautiful it is, the language and the ideas but even coming up with the best font,” Barnum said. “I’m very sensitive to what New Testament or text I should have based on the how they have written the Greek letters. Part of Penny’s is what is our aesthetic and how do we deliver not just good product but how shall we serve it, attention to detail.”
When asked if she’d give a Penny’s drink a Greek name, Barnum said she would name it after Alcibiades, an Athenian statesman who counted Socrates among his enemies.
“He’s not the most boring character ever,” Barnum said. “It’d probably be a little edgy. We’d put a little chile pepper in there and a little bit of sweet.”
Overall, Barnum said she wants people to come and feel at home at Penny’s.
“It’s beautiful and unique and refreshing,” Barnum said. “It’s a great place with great product, but most importantly, great people. We’re building campus community one cup at a time. We really want people to come and slow down and enjoy something good.”
Managing Penny’s and Benzing takes a good amount of time. It’s been a growing experience for Barnum, but she said wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m thankful for it,” Barnum said. “I think it’s really taught me to keep an open hand and kind of take what comes. When you run into people and they’re not okay or there’s a problem, I’m learning to roll with it and see it as an opportunity to love someone and to grow.”