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Keeper of Campus

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Less than half of all employed security guards in America are female, according to the United States Department of Labor. One of these working women is Saidell Santiago. After working various jobs as a security guard, a friend told her that Pratt Institute was hiring, and she knew as soon as she arrived in 2015 that this was where she was meant to work.        

In male-dominated fields, women often have to prove themselves better than their male counterparts in order to be seen as equals. While Santiago made it clear that she felt completely comfortable with her male coworkers, she strictly follows rules and has a reverence for the aboveboard. When asked to do an interview for the Prattler, she said it would be her pleasure, but only if it were cleared with the Director of Security. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Santiago has seen this neighborhood undergo waves of gentrification and has a unique perspective on the campus and its students.

January 29, 2018, 2:30 PM

ANNA: Okay, now we can really start.

SANTIAGO: I’ll just be looking because that is my job. I’m always looking, making sure everything is okay.

A: You don’t have to answer, but what is your age?

S: [laughs] A lady never tells.

A: Where are you from?

S: I was born and bred in Brooklyn.

A: Can you tell me the story of how you became a security guard at Pratt?

S: Ah, well, I knew someone who worked here and they told me it was such a nice place to work at and the people are so delightful, so I said, you know, let me just try it! And I went, I got my license, I went to a couple of other places but I found it very nice here. Very comfortable. The students, the staff, the facility, everything. Maintenance, my bosses. So like I said, this is a very nice place to work at.

A: Why did you choose to become a security guard? That kind of answered itself, but if you have anything else to add.

S: Yeah! No, not really. You know, I came, I saw, and I conquered in a sense, because I enjoy the staff, and they were so helpful, everyone. The director, Mr. Smith, Mr. Joe Santana, any explanations, any problem, we know we can call them directly. So it’s open campus and it’s also open with any issues or any problems. They make you feel comfortable.

A: Are there one or two experiences you can remember from working at Pratt that have stuck out the most to you?

S: Uh, experiences… I mean, I have a couple of them. But I think the fact that I’m learning so much from the kids here. I love that. It’s opened my horizons. Things that I’ve never thought about! I said, “Wow, these kids are so smart!” So I’m learning from them! So I enjoy that. That’s a very good experience. You know, it’s like… how can I put it? Um… I’m still growing in a sense, you know? So it’s nice! I like that. Other experiences… I see that they’re so concerned for the safety of the children. I love that. And I’ve been working and I’ve never seen an argument! I’ve never seen anything! It’s like, wow! Everybody respects everyone and I like that. It’s a good thing. And you kids are so focused! It’s like, my goodness! That thrive you have, it’s contagious! Yeah, so those experiences are good.

A: What’s your favorite aspect of working here?

S: It’s the diversity. The different people I meet. Like today, for instance, it’s Chinese New Year! I got candy! I had Chinese candy! And I was like, “Oh!” She explained everything, I was like, “Oh, isn’t that nice!” So the different people that I’ve met.

A: What is the most difficult aspect of working here?

S: I honestly haven’t come across that one yet! [laughs] Which is a good thing! Because, like I said, everyone helps each other, everyone works together. It’s like we’re a working family because we’re here so many hours. If there’s anything I don’t know or I need, I’m just a book away from calling and finding out what I need to know. [Santiago is referencing her book of campus phone extensions.] Yeah, so that’s a good thing!

A: Are there challenges to being a female security guard?

S: Oh, no. There’s much respect here. I mean, the men that we work with, they’re like our brothers, in a sense. Uh, they’ll protect us! You know, when we’re walking across the street on Myrtle getting lunch or something, if somebody catcalls, you know, and these guys are walking, they’ll stop and they’ll look at them like “wow!” It’s like having big brothers! So that’s a good thing. Very safe. I feel very safe with them.

A: How has Pratt changed since you’ve started working here?

S: Well, I’ve only been working here for, like, it’s going to be three years, but I’ve lived here all my life. So I’ve seen the difference. You know, how it used to be and the way it is now. I think it’s safer and I see the way security works because it constantly, you know with the cars all around, the roofs, I mean we look at everything to make sure. You guys go to Myrtle Avenue, the stores, you know, if anything happens, they call Pratt. So it’s like a big family, you know what I’m saying? I like that for the kids. And I live on Myrtle, so I live five minutes away. It’s easy.

A: Do you have any hobbies?

S: Hobbies? Let me see… I like to make earrings! [She shows me her earring, which are dangly, brown diamond-shapes with criss-crossed wires.] Okay, I’m all fanatic when it comes to cleanliness. Oh, I love to clean. So I do a lot of cleaning. That’s it! Those are really my hobbies! [laughs] And always keeping up with the family and my friends. Making time for everyone.

[At this point in the interview, a man on the street yells. Santiago bolts out of her seat to assess the situation and finds he was just greeting a friend. She relaxes and returns her attention to the interview.]

A: Last question! Is there anything you’d like to say to the people here at Pratt?

S: That we are so lucky! People don’t realize how lucky we are here at Pratt! If they knew what goes on with security, how these guys work so hard! I mean, snowstorm—they’re here and they won’t go home. They make sure that everything is in its place, that no one can disrupt anything that goes on in here, because with everything going on in this world, you never know. But you guys don’t know how safe [you are] or how hard these guys work. Sometimes you’ll see cameras, but there are cameras that you do not see. There are guards that are looking and you just don’t know, but they’re always [looking]. So that’s—security is very—you guys are very, very lucky. Which is good. Your parents—as a parent, I would be very happy.

As Santiago and I finally parted ways, she made a joke about the “Drugs & Vices” issue of The Prattler that came out earlier this year, saying that the “places you won’t get caught smoking on campus” segment reaffirmed some of her previous suspicions. So just know: the next time you light one up by North Hall, Saidell Santiago will be there.

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Photo by Devan Armeni

written by
Anna Bronson
March 6, 2018