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April 9, 2001

Service with a smile

By Eric Rangus


A short time ago, a young law student walked into the office of Deb Floyd. This is hardly an uncommon occurrence. Floyd, the law school’s associate director of student affairs, sees students all the time. They march in and out of her office like it is a MARTA train.

This student, though, had a problem and needed some positive reinforcement.

“I don’t know if I should’ve gone to law school,” the student said. “I don’t know if this was the right thing to do.”

Floyd quickly moved into motivational-speaker mode.

“When you leave here with a J.D., you will have more options than almost any other degree,” she told the student. “You can go into private practice, you can go work in a firm, you can work in a political office, you can go be a lobbyist on Capitol Hill. The possibilities are endless. People will want you to be a director of a company or an organization. You will have buy-in everywhere you go.”

The student smiled contemplatively. “Wow, I never thought about that.”

Helping students think outside the box is how Floyd described her duties to another visitor. “You might just have to give students a little boost,” she said.

Part natural talent, part acquired skill, Floyd has the ability to see things through the eyes of others.

Not disabled herself, she is the law school’s liaison to the Office of Disability Services and has worked hard to ensure 29-year-old Gambrell Hall is accessible to everyone.

Then, of course, there are the psyches of the law students themselves. Floyd does not do career counseling, but students are comfortable opening up to her about a variety of subjects. She knows practically all of the second- and third-year students by name and interacts with them as much as she can, chatting them up about good times and bad.

“You have to read body language,” she said. “If you see someone enough, and all of a sudden they’re sitting in a corner sort of like this,” she continued, hunching over like a tortoise in a shell, “it’s easy to go up and say, ‘What’s going on?’ If you interact with people on a personal level, they will respond.”

“Deb was always a comfortable face [to see], you could come in and talk to her about anything,” said Elizabeth Antonakakis, a 1998 law school graduate who was hired as assistant dean in the law school last June. She and Floyd now share office space. It was Floyd who helped ease Antonakakis into the position. “It was a very natural transition,” Antonakakis said.

A native of Orange County, Calif., Floyd attended San Diego State, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in women’s studies. She earned her M.S. in business from Golden Gate Univer-sity in San Francisco. Perhaps an odd combination on the surface, but one Floyd said was ideal.

“The women’s studies degree taught me to think independently,” she said. “The business degree taught me to work with people. So, you think first, then you’ve got to translate it and make everybody else in your group understand. [It] is always about teamwork.”

After graduating from Golden Gate, Floyd joined the administration. She eventually rose to assistant dean of arts and sciences. Her work life was standard: Come in, get the job done, go home.

That changed when she came to Emory in 1994. “Literally three months [after starting work here], I was approached by some women here who said, ‘You should be in this really neat organization.’”

That organization was the President’s Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW). She immediately joined the staff concerns subcommittee, then was elected secretary the following year. In 1999, she was chosen to be chair-elect and served as PCSW chair this year. Her term ends with the commission’s May meeting.

“You don’t always choose leadership,” Floyd said. “It generally chooses you. You get the feeling that this is the right thing to do at the right time.”

As chair, Floyd steered the commission to several accomplishments. Its student concerns committee collected more than 550 cell phones for victims of domestic violence, it worked on a comparative study of sexual assault prevention and education, and it continued to expand dialogue with Emory’s high-level administration.

She also helped with the initial planning for the commission’s 25th anniversary celebration, which will be observed April 26.

Floyd estimated she spent 5–10 hours a week working on commission issues. Becoming involved in making the University a better place is something every employee should think about,
she said.

“The PCSW and its subcommittees are not luxury jobs,” Floyd said. “You can’t just put on your resume that you’re a member of the PCSW and get way with it. You need face time at meetings, and you need ‘butt time,’ if I can say that, at subcommittee meetings. The subcommittees are where the work happens. You’re going to have to sweat.”

Perhaps it’s no surprise that someone with a background in women’s studies, solid credibility in campus activism believes women should make a contribution and continue the work of trailblazing women before them. The law school, for instance, long the exclusive realm of me, is now approximately 51 percent female.

“The young women who’ve come through the ’80s and ’90s really need to start giving back because things can go away as quickly as they come,” she said

Floyd has done her part, but come next PCSW meeting, she is moving on.

“Leaving the PCSW will be both a blessing and a sorrow because it’s been such an important part of my life,” Floyd said. “But it’s not that the work won’t continue to go on. I just get to play a less visual role.”

Floyd will focus her efforts on the staff concerns sub-committee, where she started. Joining a PCSW sub-committee does not require commission membership, so Floyd, who retains her ex-officio status, plans to step back.

“It’s somebody else’s turn now,” Floyd said. “There are fabulous people from all over this campus who will be able to do a great job.”


Back to Emory Report April 9, 2001