By Lluvia Meyreles
The workplace romances inside Lewis & Clark faculty do not quite top those of a daytime soap opera, but sometimes it feels like it. You could probably find a couple inside every department if you looked hard enough. But, how did these couples come to be in the first place?
Assistant Professor of History Reiko Hillyer and Professor of History and Director of Ethnic Studies Elliot Young met on the fourth floor of Miller in Oct. 2004. Hillyer had just started a fellowship at LC, and Young, who was on sabbatical at the time, reached out to meet with her. Given his position in the History department he felt that he should introduce himself and get to know the new addition to LC. What followed ended up sparking a romance that would last years.
Young had just come back from a conference in Las Vegas, and during their first lunch together he mentioned to Hillyer how he felt a bit repulsed by the city and its landscape. Hillyer, who spends a lot of her class time talking about Vegas and its landscape, argued that he was being a snob.
“That’s how we knew we were hitting it off,” Hillyer said. “We had a very playful argument.”
They went on their first date to watch “The Motorcycle Diaries” that very night.
“We didn’t know it was a date,” Hillyer said.
Associate Professor of Mathematics Paul Allen and Associate Professor of Mathematical Sciences Iva Stavrov met at the University of Oregon, where they were both completing a doctorate in Mathematics. Their road to becoming colleagues at LC was a bit more complicated than their life together in graduate school. Stavrov and Allen ended up at different sides of the world at various times. It was years until they were both living in Portland and a part of LC.
Hillyer and Young hit it off immediately and the dates evolved into a relationship. However, navigating dating in the workplace was a different story. The couple felt that their relationship should be kept under wraps and they managed to keep it a secret for a little under a year.
“As a new person whose job was precarious, I really didn’t want to muddy things in a way that could be unnecessarily complex,” Hillyer said. “I wanted whatever success or failure I had to be my own.”
They weren’t the only ones that initially kept their relationship on the down low. Associate Professor of Art History Dawn Odell and Associate Professor of Art History Matthew Johnston met during their time at University of Chicago in 1993. They only shared one class together, but that was enough to spark a romance. Johnston and Odell found their way to LC when two positions opened up in the Art department. They applied separately and waited to mention their relationship until they were well into the interview process.
“We did Skype interviews on separate days, but we happened to set up the computer in the same place,” Johnston said. “So the people doing the interviewing might have thought that was weird.”
They both got positions at LC, which is highly unusual when it comes to couples in academia.
“We feel so lucky,” Odell said. “Because it’s really hard to get a job in the same city.”
According to the couples, working together has been great for their relationship.
“It’s hard for me to imagine being in a relationship with a person without sharing the kinds of interests and day-to-day life that we do,” Hillyer said. “It’s more than a job and those interests and passions and frustrations carry over.”
Working together at LC has been a lot of fun for Allen and Stavrov. They even taught the same class, at the same time, in neighboring classrooms.
“One day I had my class stand up and chant about matrix population,” Allen said. “Iva could tell from next door that I was 10 minutes ahead of her.”
For Johnston and Odell it is no surprise that there are so many couples on campus.
“I always thought a liberal arts college was a pretty good environment for this kind of phenomenon,” Johnston said. “A lot of the work you do is outside of a 9-5 concept and you’re doing academic things when you’re off campus all the time.”
“I think it’s a good thing, it makes it so much easier to be here and be happy,” Odell said.
Working together is not always easy for Allen and Stavrov.
“There are certainly things that each of us does at LC that drives the other nuts,” Allen said. “But it’s good — it reminds everyone, including ourselves, that we are two individuals.”
For all of these couples it is important to be able to share their ideas at the dinner table and laugh about things that happen at school at the end of the day. Their lives, both individually and together, have revolved around academia for years, which makes their relationships make perfect sense.