Celebrating 110 years of Student Journalism

A day in the Life: Professor Crystal Benedicks

BRENT BREESE ’19 | COPY EDITOR • Wabash students are well known for their opportunities to form working relationships and friendships with our professors. Students babysit for their professors, play club sports together, have dinner together, and in the past even rented apartments from faculty members. Despite this sense of closeness with our faculty, we don’t always have a clear picture of a day in the life of a Wabash professor. Do they live at Backstep? Do they live in the laboratory? Or do they live right here in Crawfordsville, five minutes away from Wabash’s campus with three young children and a dog? The latter is the case for Crystal Benedicks, Associate Professor of English Literature and her husband, Jim Cherry, Associate Professor of Theater.

“The two pulls in my life are my job and family,” Benedicks said. “Every act feels like juggling those things, and on a good day I feel like I’m equally present in both of those worlds. But on most days, I wish for more time to spend on the things I’m not doing at the moment.”

Anyone who has spent time in Benedicks’ office immediately notices the Hot Wheels track, the pile of toys, and more than likely a drawing of some point done by her children. “I imagine most working parents feel this conundrum,” Benedicks said.

Mornings in her household are usually a scramble. Teeth need brushed, mouths need food, feet need socks (though Benedicks would like to note that “matching socks” are by no means a priority) and about a dozen other things need immediate attention.

“The struggle at this point is not seeing the kids as a series of chores that need accomplished,” Benedicks said. “Not looking at them and seeing a checklist. Instead, look at them as humans.”

The typical Wabash student does not have this early morning sprint
to get the day started, but once the kids get off to school, Benedicks’ daily routine begins to take on a tone familiar to most students.

“Spending some time at the gym every day is critical,” Benedicks said. “It’s the only time in my day that I have just to myself. It functions like therapy.” Wabash students know just as well that exercise is crucial to academic and mental health. “I can wake my mind up for the day.” Benedicks said.

 

After the gym, it’s time for Benedicks to head to class.”Whenever I walk into my first class of the day, I switch from my family hat to my professional hat,” Benedicks said.

“People are going to energize or de-energize based on what I bring to the room.” She notes that this shift is fascinating. Benedicks goes from a slightly hectic morning, to some gym time, and then all of a sudden things just sort of drop off and shift.

“It makes me wonder if my students feel like this,” Benedicks said. “What are they checking at the door as they walk in?” Even during her “professor hours,” Benedicks
still faces some curveballs as she moves from a Freshman composition course to a pure literature course. After her two classes finish at noon, she’s already had a full day, which
is something quite familiar to many of us.

“I allow myself to be stupid for about 20 minutes at this point,” Benedicks said. “I do some busy ‘not-smart’ work while I decompress.”

Afterwards, she addresses the things required by an academic, whether that be writing, reviewing, reading (a lot), and working through the “list”. “You don’t ever get as far through the list as you want to, but it still helps.” Benedicks said.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, the family clock starts once again as the kids come home. The oldest child does his homework, plays video games, and spends some quality time with either Benedicks or Cherry. At 4:30 p.m., they face a full house and really need to balance everything. One parent might be cooking while the other is taking care of something which has an approaching deadline. However, and this bit will resonate with all of us, Benedicks stress the absolute importance of having a family dinner every night.

“Dinner with small children us just so much fun,” Benedicks said. “The community of our family dinner is just so critical.”

After that, the parents will again flip-flop their parent/professor roles until the kids go to bed and they can finally relax.

If any of this seemed like a whirlwind to our readers, don’t worry, you aren’t alone. We asked Benedicks what it was like to deal with any sort of emergency or sudden problem, and how to keep everything from crumbling.

“You can’t prevent everything from crumbling,” Benedicks said.

“A parent has to have a higher tolerance for chaos.”

Responding to chaos requires Benedicks and Cherry to coordinate immediately and prioritize who will respond to said chaos. “We’re very lucky to live very close to campus,” Benedicks said.

Wabash students can take some lessons from two dedicated parents and involved professors: learn to manage a crisis, communicate effectively with your team (or spouse), use a well-structured calendar (the Benedicks-Cherry joint calendar is seriously impressive), and learn to switch between your hats. By switching gears from work to class to studying or whatever your case may be, you don’t completely forget everything else that doesn’t necessarily pertain to what you’re doing in any given moment.