‘Inside UVA’: Unofficial ‘Hype Girl’ Explains How She Brings the Energy
Audio: ‘Inside UVA’ With Tabitha Enoch(26:00)
Associate Dean of Students Tabitha Enoch talks about being accessible and relatable, especially to first-generation and lower-income students, in the third episode of season 2, “Inside UVA.”
President Jim Ryan: Tell me about your experience interviewing comedian Nathan Fielder in 2019.
Tabitha Enoch: Have you ever been in an experience where you felt like the audience was like they were in on a joke against you?
Ryan: I feel like that four or five times a day.
Hi, everyone. I’m Jim Ryan, the president of the University of Virginia, and I’d like to welcome all of you to another episode of “Inside UVA.” This podcast is a chance for me to speak with some of the amazing people at the University, and to learn more about what they do and who they are. My hope is that listeners will ultimately have a better understanding of how UVA works, and a deeper appreciation of the remarkably talented and dedicated people who make UVA the institution it is.
Today I have the privilege of introducing you to Tabitha Enoch, widely known as the University’s – and sometimes my personal – hype girl. Tab is a pillar in the UVA community hailing from Boston, Massachusetts. By our good luck, she eventually made her way to Charlottesville, and has been working at UVA for over two decades. She’s an associate dean of students, and the beloved leader of orientation and new student programs. She was the recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award in 2018. And all those who meet and know Tab, know that she embodies the generous, altruistic ideals the award represents. She is the mother of a rising baseball star, a regular at Plaza Azteca, an avid podcast listener and someone I’m truly grateful to call a friend.
Tab, thank you so much for being here.
Enoch: Thank you so much for having me. I really do appreciate it.
Ryan: So you are, as I mentioned in the introduction, known by many – and I’ve heard you describe yourself – as “the University’s unofficial hype girl.” So how did you get that title? And what does the job entail?
Enoch: Well, I’m pretty sure it started with you.
Ryan: I didn’t suggest it to you did I?
Enoch: You didn’t suggest it, but I’m pretty sure it started with you. When you came on board, I started calling myself “the unofficial University’s hype girl” because I wanted to like, be behind you hyping you up as the new person on the scene. And then I sort of took that on the road at graduation.
And then it became a thing at summer orientation. But I am pretty sure that that started with your tenure as the president here.
Ryan: Well, I’m honored.
Ryan: So I imagine carrying that much energy to your work all the time can get tiring. What keeps you motivated, and what gets you through the doors of Peabody every day?
Enoch: So it’s a really fun job. But I think the thing that keeps me motivated is doing some of the hard things. While I get to be the face of the University in many ways, the work isn’t always fun. I tell students all the time, like it’s not glitter, Play-Doh and puffy paint all the time. But the motivation really comes from the impact that I think I’m having on the folks that I get to meet and engage with in orientation. It certainly comes from the impact that I feel like I know that others are having on me. I am like, so grateful to be in this community, because it’s such a learning laboratory for me. And so the motivation really comes from wondering, like, “What am I going to get to learn today when I go into the halls of Peabody?”
Ryan: Right. And I know that there are many more facets to Tab Enoch than unofficial hype girl. So talk a little bit about that. Who do you see when you’re not on Grounds?
Enoch: I think that, when I’m home, people don’t believe this; they think when I go home, there’s like, party all the time. And that is not the case. I tell folks all the time that my job requires so much extroverted energy that when I’m not at work, I actually don’t mind being home by myself alone. I enjoy actually being alone, doing a little bit of reading, watching TV, spending time with my son. So when I’m home, it is not what I think people anticipate that it is at my house.
Ryan: Home is a place to recharge in some way.
Enoch: Indeed, indeed. Because I feel like, again, the work requires so much of who I am, which I’m glad to offer, but certainly I need to recharge when I get home.
Ryan: Yeah. So you and I share something in common in that we’re both first-generation college students. And I wonder if you can talk a little bit about your journey to and through college. And is it true that at one point you were thinking you wanted to be a lawyer?
Enoch: You do your research! Yes, I did think that, but my path to college was somewhat similar to what I think I’ve heard you say about yours, which is, even though I came from a first-generation, low-income, sort of working-class family, because of the high school that I went to, it was never a question of if I was going to college, it was always like, “What college are you going to?” So I always had that in my mind.
Ryan: And where did you go to high school?
Enoch: I went to Boston Latin School.
Ryan: Oh, yeah. Great school.
Enoch: Yes, so because of where I went to high school, that was always the past. So it felt like it was pretty straight for me. And so when I got to Boston College, I thought that I knew – I thought that I was going to be a lawyer.
And I happened to have a work-study job in the Career Center. And so there was a woman there who took a really good interest in me; her name is Janet Costa Bates. And she worked in the Career Center and really helped put me on my path into student affairs. Otherwise, I probably would have thought, “Oh, let me go to law school,” because I only knew of certain careers. I had no idea that student affairs was a lifelong career.
Ryan: It’s so funny that you mentioned that, because I was talking to some people who work in the Career Advising Office here at UVA. And I was telling them that exact story, because when I grew up, you know, there were, I knew of three, maybe four professions: law –
Enoch: – teacher –
Ryan: – medicine, or you could be a priest. And that was it.
Enoch: Right. And so I got to the Career Center, and that opened up a whole new world for me.
Ryan: Yeah, well, good for you, and good for us.
So I’m curious, I know you’ve done a lot of great work with first-generation and lower-income students here at UVA. And I’m wondering how much of your own experience do you bring to that work? And what do you do to try to make sure that the students feel seen and welcome?
Enoch: Yeah, I can’t shed my, my many identities. And so I do bring a lot of who I am to that work. I think the biggest thing that I do – which I see you do, also – which is I really try to make myself accessible and relatable to students, to all students, but specifically to our first-generation, lower-income students. I think that that community is really diverse. And so there’s no one experience that there is. And so I try to make room for all of that.
We tell students in orientation that their stories really matter. And that is amplified for me for first-generation college students, because I know what that is, like, I know what it’s like, I know how hard it is to not know when everybody else is so certain about all of the things on college campuses. And so I also know what the benefit is of having first-generation college students on college campuses. And so I’ve tried to reinforce for them that they belong here, that we need them, that they own this place, just like anybody else owns this place.
And so those are some of the things that I tried to do. I don’t know that we had that language when we were first-gen. I didn’t know what that meant.
Ryan: No, it wasn’t even a thing.
Enoch: It wasn’t a thing at all. It wasn’t a thing. And I – so now that we know that, I try to at least identify those students and again, be as relatable and as accessible to them as I possibly can. The older I get, the harder that is, because they see me more as a mom now than big sister. But I mean, what can you do about that?
Ryan: Those students are lucky to have you.
Enoch: Thank you.
Ryan: I think it’s easy to assume that everyone, because they’re here, feels like they belong. But that’s not always the case. And so, making sure that students hear it from someone is actually really important.
Enoch: Right. Right. And I think in our orientation program, and all of the areas of the University, I think we are really trying to reinforce that message that we all belong here.
Ryan: Yeah. So talk to me about orientation, how you are the czar or czarina of orientation services.
Enoch: I like czarina.
Ryan: And how did you find yourself in that role?
Enoch: So Penny Rue, who was a former dean of students here, encouraged me to apply. I was working in Housing and Residence Life; she saw the work aligned with my personality and my gifts.
And so because orientation does align with who I am – sometimes, not all the time – but sometimes it doesn’t feel like work. I get to welcome people, you know, every year to the University, you get to set the table for them, you get to sort of create this sense of expectation and wonder for them. So it really is a fun job.
And it really is interesting and special because you are sort of doing it at a pivotal point in the life of a family, right? Like you’re sort of entering the story with them at a really pivotal point. And so I don’t take that for granted. And I find it to be a privilege to be able to sort of create this welcoming environment for them when they come to UVA.
Ryan: Right. And that handoff is so important.
Enoch: And you know, there’s a whole, like, army of people who are helping. I just sort of get to be one of the first people to say that, but it really is really, really important.
Ryan: Yeah. So I asked you earlier about what brings you through the door of Peabody every day. But you’ve also been at UVA for quite some time. And I’m curious, what has kept you here?
Enoch: Oh, my gosh, like, you know this. It’s the people, right! Like, it’s so cliché. And I hate to rely on cliché, but it is. I mean, y’all have become my work family. And the students that I get to connect with every year, the professionals that I engage with every day, all of the people that work here – it’s just wonderful. And so, that is really what keeps me here, it keeps me grounded. And it really is an important part of my experience. I feel like I grew up here.
Ryan: I’m glad you’re here.
Enoch: Thank you. Thank you.
Ryan: So I’m curious, who are some of your role models or mentors?
Enoch: So professionally, I always say this, Angela Davis, who was the person who hired me when I first got here in 1999, when I was 20-something years old, right? And I was so excited to come work for another Black woman. I had never had a Black supervisor before. And we just got together recently, and to still continue to learn from her is a gift. And so she’s one of my mentors.
I mentioned Penny Rue, Shamim Sisson, Carol Wood, Patrice Grimes, like these are all women who came before me at UVA, who really taught me something, who really blazed the trail for me here. Michael Mason, who’s interim dean over in OAAA, and Vicki Gist, who works in Multicultural Student Services, are also mentors for me. They are such smart people. And so when I get to sit at their feet and learn from them, I consider them really, really close friends as well as mentors.
Ryan: And I understand you have a tradition of trying to have a mentor who is under 30. Is that true?
Enoch: Yes. But this was new, because [David] Sauerwein, who works with me in my office, had said that to me, and I was like, “Oh, you know what, I gotta do that.” So I have had two now mentors who are under 30. They are our fellows who work in our office. And the most recent one is Matt Peterson, and they teach me so much about Gen Z.
Ryan: I just played this trivia game that’s called Mind the Gap. And it has trivia that is designed for different generations. So there are questions related to Boomers, Gen Z, or us Gen Xers and Millennials, and the best way to succeed is to have representatives from the different generations. And I played it, and we did not have full representation. And there were some questions from Millennials, and there were no Millennials, so we just had no idea. It was like I wasn’t even alive during that period.
Enoch: I really feel the same way. I gotta tell you, I’m like, when they are talking and saying things, even though I feel like I try to do my best to make people feel seen, I’m like, as I get older, it’s just harder to connect. Because it feels like I’m talking a different language sometimes.
Ryan: I know. I know. So your colleagues, I talk about how you use and live by the phrase “giving people their flowers.” And I wonder what that means to you and why that phrase matters to you.
Enoch: So my mom has always said that, like, she’s like, “You need to give people their flowers while they’re living.” And so I really have taken that to heart. You need to tell people now what they mean to you, how good they are to you, like how they’re impacting your life. Because if anything that this past fall has continued to remind me is that, you know, nothing is promised to us, like nothing is promised. And so you have to take the time in the moment to say, “You know what, that really did matter to me, you’re impacting my life in a wonderful way.”
I actually, I saw JJ and she really made me feel known and seen and like she knew me and wanted to know how my break was. And I thought, “I have to email her to say, thank you for that.” Like, every time I see her, she always is so personable and asks me and seems like she genuinely is waiting for the answer to the question of “How are you doing?” And that’s not the case for everybody. And so it reminds me it’s like, give her her flowers now to say, “Gosh, JJ, thank you so much. Every time you see me, you always make me feel like I’m the only person here in this conversation.” And that is really significant. So I try to do that in all the places and spaces where I can.
Ryan: That’s a great approach to life.
Enoch: And my mom, she says that all the time – “Give them their flowers while they’re living.”
Ryan: Right. So you mentioned this fall – which is very tough, obviously, especially with the tragic shootings in November – and I’m just curious, how does your job change during a crisis? I mean, I know that Student Affairs is on the front lines. And I’m just wondering for you personally, how does your job change?
Enoch: So in addition to working in orientation, I’ve spent, I guess, the last 20 years or so also serving in the “dean on call” student support role. And so when things like that happen, it changes in the sense that the focus really becomes, “How do we support this community? How do we support the individual students who are experiencing the tragedy? And what does support look like for them?” And so particularly this past fall, a lot of the planning for summer, we took a pause on that – as we should have – so that we could really focus in on like, “What does this community need now? What do the students who are directly impacted by this tragedy need now? And how can I be of service to them?”
And I don’t know that I’ve experienced anything as hard as that. And I hope we don’t ever have to experience that again. But it was – it was really, really hard. And it continues to still be really, really hard. But I have no doubt that we as a community can move through it together, in our own time, when we’re ready.
Ryan: Yeah, well you all have been incredibly helpful. And I don’t think we would have gotten through it without you. I mean, it’s something that reverberated deep and wide.
Enoch: Right. And the thing that was interesting to me is, whenever we’ve had those kinds of things happen on our Grounds, the people from outside the community who check in on all of us. I had friends and colleagues who were like, “Oh, my gosh, I heard from people whom I hadn’t heard from, in you know, 10 years check in on me.” And so there’s like these pieces of, like, connection and kindness that you try to hold on to in the midst of a tragedy like that.
Ryan: Yeah. And try to carry forward, too.
Enoch: Yes and try to carry those relationships forward, if you can.
Ryan: So switching topics, I understand your son is graduating high school this year, and you are now an expert in higher education, and a mother of someone who is headed off to college. So how are you feeling about all of it?
Enoch: Oh, my gosh, listen, he reclassed to play baseball. So he has actually one more year to go. So that has taken the brakes off of it a little bit, which is nice. But I can tell you this, that it’s really created way more empathy for me for parents, when I see them in the summer, and they are experiencing all of these emotions about sending their son or daughter off to college.
I feel it, like I feel it in a different kind of way. I’m looking forward to it for him. I’m so excited for him. I know this is what we have to do, because this is what he should be doing. But in my heart, I will be sad. I’m going to need a community to support me through him going to college. I’ll be really sad about it. But happy at the thing.
Ryan: Yeah, no, it’s the epitome of bittersweet.
Enoch: It is, it really is. So I’ll be knocking on your door for some advice.
Ryan: Our youngest is a junior in college. I mean a junior in high school. And yeah, so she’s our last to go to college. So yeah, well, we can bring each other boxes of tissues.
Enoch: That’s what we will need, we will need that. Mm hmm.
Ryan: So I also have heard that you and your son had a tradition of “Black Cinema Sundays.” Can you talk a little bit about that and why it was important or why maybe, maybe you’re still doing it?
Enoch: Yeah, he’s over it now. You know, when they’re kids, they kind of do whatever it is that you ask, although, you know, he probably would still do it with me now.
But when he was younger, I really wanted him to understand his Blackness. I want him to understand Black culture. And we had gone, we went to see “42,” the movie about Jackie Robinson. And so he loved the movie. He’s a baseball player. He enjoyed that. And so then I thought, “Oh, well, you know, I’ll do Black Cinema Sunday, every Sunday.”
So every Sunday, maybe it was like 9 or 10 or something like that. And we would watch a movie about Black cinema, something that was, that related to Black culture. And so one Sunday, I go to put in a movie, and my son goes, “Mom, I get it. Like I get it. Segregation was bad, it was really hard.” And I was like, “Oh,” and so I realized I probably was doing a little bit too much.
And I had said to him, I was like, “Oh no, this movie right here was just about a little girl that went to a spelling bee.” It was “Akeelah and the Bee.” And so then I decided to dial back on Black Cinema Sunday.
Then I realized, “OK, I need to let him create his own experiences.” But it was special for the moment that it lasted. And every now and again, he’ll remind me about Black Cinema Sunday and ask to watch. “You know, can we do that again?” But it’s not as regular as it used to be when he was little.
Ryan: Right. So tell me about your experience interviewing comedian Nathan Fielder in 2019. What was that like? And did you know who he was when you were interviewing?
Enoch: Have you ever been in an experience where you felt like the audience, and the moderator or the host, was like, they were in on a joke against you?
Ryan: I feel like that four or five times a day.
Enoch: That’s because I had no idea who he was. Clearly the audience of students who came to see him knew who he was. They asked me to moderate a conversation with him. I say “yes.” It was funny to me, because it was clear that they were on an inside joke against me. And I didn’t even really understand what the joke was.
He was really funny. I had no idea who he was. I had no idea why he was coming. But what I enjoyed was just the unknown part of that, and I enjoyed, like, not really knowing something, and then still having fun with it. And so it really was one of the highlights of my time here at UVA, because the students loved him. He really loved being here. I had no idea what was going on. But I sort of like went with it, which is totally not my personality.
Ryan: All right. So we are coming close to the time of the interview. And to finish up, can we do a little lightning round?
Enoch: Oh, sure!
Ryan: OK, so I understand you are an avid podcast listener. Aside from “Inside UVA,” what are your favorite podcasts?
Enoch: Recently, oddly enough, because I only listen to podcasts to learn things, but then I decided, well, let me have a lighter one. So I’ve been listening to a lot of comedians. I also listen to anything Brené Brown podcasts; I listen to “Code Switch,” which is a podcast on race and identity. I also listen to Adam Grant on leadership and work life. And then I also listen to Kimberly Crenshaw on intersectionality. So those are the ones that are like, top of my list.
Ryan: Great. OK. True or false? You are on a mission to create your own podcast about dating life.
Enoch: Ah, so true. But I want to ask you, is it fun doing podcasts?
Ryan: Oh, it’s so fun. I love doing podcasts. I love doing this. Yeah, but I love, I love it; I love asking other people questions.
Enoch: OK, so you don’t want to be the guest.
Ryan: I much prefer being the interviewer rather than the interviewee.
Enoch: OK, so here’s the idea that came up when I was asked to be on your podcast. So you tell me what you think about this. So I would love to do a podcast that brings back “Love Connection.” Remember? Chuck Woolery? “Love Connection”? So, but on the college campus, have them go out on a date, both people come to the podcast, and talk about the date on the podcast. And then I would have to have like a Gen Zer along with me as a co-host, because they’d be like, “I’m not talking to my grandma about, you know what I mean, about the date.”
So that is my newest idea that I think might have some legs.
Ryan: Oh, I think it would definitely have some legs.
Enoch: I think it has some legs. So I would love to do a podcast on dating life on a college campus and co-host it with another student.
Ryan: All right. So another true-or-false question. Is it true that in another life, you would be a host on QVC?
Enoch: That is also true. So I would love to host a show that has like kitchen supplies, and then maybe even do a podcast on whether or not the kitchen supplies work. A colleague of mine and I talked about this a while ago. So yes, to the QVC co-hosts, you know, that would be a dream job of mine to be a host on QVC.
Ryan: OK, well, I do not want you going anywhere from UVA, but if anyone from QVC is listening ...
All right. Last question, I understand you’re a really avid knitter.
Enoch: Listen, they really dug deep on this! I have been trying to knit since 1996.
Ryan: I keep waiting for those socks you promised.
Enoch: I’ve been trying to knit since 1996. And in fact, a student gave me knitting needles, yarn, a YouTube clip, all of the things that teach me to knit and I still have not done it. But one day, I will be an avid knitter,
Ryan: There’s still time.
Well Tab, thank you so much for your time and more importantly, thanks for everything you do every day for our community, and especially for our students. I’m incredibly grateful that you are a colleague and a friend.
Enoch: Thank you so much. I really do appreciate you having me on. And the next time you need a hype girl, you know where I live.
Mary Garner McGehee: “Inside UVA” is a production of WTJU 91.1 FM and the Office of the President at the University of Virginia. “Inside UVA” is produced by Kalea Obermeyer, Aaryan Balu, Mary Garner McGehee and Matt Weber. We also want to thank Tab Enoch, Maria Jones and McGregor McCance.
Our music is “Turning to You” from Blue Dot Sessions. Listen and subscribe to “Inside UVA” on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. We’ll be back soon with another conversation about the life of the University.
Tabitha Enoch, the associate dean of orientation and new student programs, is known as the University of Virginia’s unofficial “hype girl.” How the fun and accurate title came about is one of several engaging topics Enoch explores with President Jim Ryan in the latest “Inside UVA” podcast.
When new students arrive at the University for summer orientation, Enoch, as director of new student orientation, provides the welcome address, making her one of the first official faces the incoming students see. Enoch also recruits and supervises the 52 student leaders who are integral to the program.
A Boston native, Enoch has been UVA for more than 20 years. She initially planned to become a lawyer. However, she took a work-study job in the University’s Career Center, and that position put her on a trajectory for working with student affairs.
Enoch brings her background as a first-generation college student into her work and makes herself accessible and relatable to the students, “but specifically to our first-generation, lower-income students,” she said. “That community is really diverse, so there is no one experience. I try to make room for all of that. Their stories really matter and that is amplified for me with first-generation college students.”
Find this and all previous Inside UVA podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Google Podcasts.
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March 22, 2023