Now, she’s received a bit more publicity in an article on The Chronicle of Higher Education website.
For one, the identity of Aunt Des is also revealed in the article to be Maria Theresa Stadtmueller, “a college communications writer and former stand-up comedian, [who] drew inspiration for the character from her real-life Aunt Despina.” Stephen Diehl, Communications Senior Editor and producer of the videos is quoted, saying, “We’re trying to use some humor while at the same time getting the message across.”
More interesting, here’s what to watch for in the spring:
The campaign will expand this spring with life-size Aunt Des cardboard cutouts and a smartphone app that plays sound bites of her most memorable quotations (among them, one-liners about “sloppagees” and “zoons,” words the original Despina used, that Ms. Stadtmueller says loosely translate to “slobs” and “animals”).
Dining Services and Communications announce this continuation of the low-budget project despite the fact that Matthew Biette is quoted, saying, “I’d like to say the campaign has had an impact, but the quantity of dishes in the dish room is depleting at the same pace.”
I have my doubts that the smartphone app will meet with much success–whether defined by download count or by the number of dishes it will bring back in. The Chronicle suggests Middlebury solve the problem by just admitting one more student at the going $52,000 tuition rate to pay off the $50,000 of lost dishes. Right.
I think that the only way students will be convinced to make a concentrated effort to bring their dishes back and to keep their friends honest, too, will be if this privilege is put in legitimate jeopardy. Getting to eat when and where (and as much as) we like is a great thing. “Dining services hasn’t considered discontinuing the system,” The Chronicle says. That may be part of the problem.
I hand it to the Communications and Dining Services administrators for designing the campaign to be respectful of students as adults. The ads gently and in good humor remind us of this small responsibility we have and have known for a long time: “put things back where you found them.” If it’s just that we’re too busy or absent-minded to “care,” then sure, more reminders, like the cardboard cutouts (in dorms too, maybe), might be the ticket.
But, since Aunt Des or Biette’s sporadic emails (like last week’s message about how many hundreds of dessert plates evaporated this semester) don’t actually hold any threat for us or the College’s laissez-faire dining policy, I get the sense that collectively, students may feel like they’re simply being reprimanded for not doing their chores–just without the threat of real punishment, or even a slap on the wrist, at that.
We would all hate to see our dining system–unrestrained movement for all dishes and as much juice as your pre-2:00 p.m. appetite can handle–change for the worse. But, seriously, let’s bring back the plates.
It’s the classic collective action problem. Social science profs will tell you to solve that problem, it means that 1) everyone has to cooperate and agree to do do their part (likely?), or 2) the costs of non-cooperation need to be increased. Bottom line: the “costs” of Aunt Des’ guilt trip aren’t nearly high enough.