Credit: James Braithwaite
The Faculty Club Mystique
After imagining it from afar, stepping inside was momentous
My relationship with the University of Alberta was a weird one right from the start. I have never been an approval-seeking type of person, but with the U of A it was impossible for me to avoid. At first I played it cool, acted aloof as though I was the cool one and it was the university that should be thankful for having me attend. But it wasn’t long before that dynamic flipped and I became the one who desperately wanted the U of A to know I was there — to somehow make a lasting impression on it.
Mornings began the same way for me each day. I would park in a lot on the west side of campus and walk to one of the buildings on the east side, usually Humanities or Tory. The shadow of the Faculty Club loomed large as I passed. It seemed to have the best little slice of real estate on campus and the added benefit of not having any classrooms or labs inside it. The Faculty Club was just for faculty, or at least that’s what I assumed at the time. It was the classiest faculty lounge I’d never seen, with just the right mix of leather and wood and suede and tweed. Smoking inside buildings was not yet illegal so I also assumed that the club smelled sweetly of old books, pipe smoke and Merlot. I imagined professors from all over the university gathering each evening to have dinner in the immaculate and modestly designed dining room overlooking the glorious river valley and talking about how well I was doing in my studies. In my head, this is how things went.
One day not long ago, I got an email from someone at the Faculty of Arts. I had finally triggered their Google alert, I figured. The message asked me to emcee their annual awards dinner for faculty and students, and the event would be held AT THE FACULTY CLUB. “You had me at Faculty Club,” I replied, Jerry Maguire-style.
Entering the Faculty Club for the first time was kind of like going back to your old elementary school as an adult. Everything seemed smaller than I’d expected, and I felt much bigger compared with the idea of the place that I had in my head. In my heart, I was so excited to be there. I wore a suit. I said funny things. I read the names of award recipients who were all doing much more valuable things with their time than I was. But I was the one the faculty chose to be the host. Professors asked how I was doing and thanked me for coming. They asked if I needed anything, brought me ice water in a wine glass — a wine glass! It was one of the happiest experiences the U of A has ever given me.
At the end of the night, all mystique surrounding the Faculty Club was gone for me. I realized it was just like any other building on campus. But it wasn’t just any other campus; this was the University of Alberta. I felt I had finally done enough in my life to pop up on its radar, and after the evening I spent there, I hoped to do enough to be invited back.
Editor’s note: Though we have not yet had the heart to tell Jason Lee Norman, Faculty Club memberships have been available since 2013 to all alumni who enjoy drinking water in a wine glass.