Kingsborough Chief of Staff, Tasheka Sutton-Young’s laugh may shock you. Her voice is soft-spoken and steady, but her laugh warms and fills the room like a fireplace on a chilly day. Just looking at her, you see someone who is about her business.
Her style is immaculate. No hair, pin, button or thread is out of place. Everything, including her bold statement necklace, is methodically chosen.
Because of her innate composure, most people would struggle to picture her dancing around C123 singing Whitney Houston to the top of her lungs or camping out in her living room with her daughters. That’s because Sutton-Young believes in balance- each activity has a place.
Sutton-Young is sort of the Olivia Pope of Kingsborough, without the scandal. She works behind the scenes to keep the president’s office at peak efficiency. As chief of staff, her ability to do her job effectively rests on her ability to sense when certain things are appropriate and when others are not. Minus the medication-induced Student Life karaoke session, Sutton-Young will never been seen goofing off or gossiping in the hallways.
“What has never changed about me- you can ask Maria [Patestas] because I’ve known her since she was 17- is my standards and how I work and what I do,” Sutton-Young said calmly. “There is a time and place for everything. I like to have fun and I like to laugh and I like to do all that but work is work. We’re here to do a job, so let’s get the job done.”
This sense of time and place was something she was born with- being the eldest of five brothers tends to instill a great sense of discipline from young. Plus, it helps that she was “born 50”. So much so that there isn’t much difference between “Tasheka the Teenager” and “Tasheka the Adult.” Tasheka the Teenager just partied more- Tasheka the Adult has entirely too many responsibilities. One of those being overseeing the president’s office as the chief of staff.
With the former president retiring and the interim president being just that- an interim, the president’s office is hardpressed to find a replacement within a year.
Yes, it’s just as chaotic as it sounds.
However, walking into Sutton-Young’s office, there is no evidence of that chaos. She manages to center herself through praying- frequently.
“I’m a very spiritual person,” she said. “I’m led by my faith, so those days I will pray- a lot. And I will say silent prayers.”
Along with finding a new president, Sutton-Young also specialises in fixing things- that is handling any disasters that pop up before they become disasters. Her 15 year background in higher education is scattered across four colleges; it allows her to navigate the school system almost flawlessly.
Her years at Stonybrook as Associate Director of Student Activities and Assistant Director for Fraternity and Sorority Life some of her best. If her then fiancé wasn’t moving, she says she probably never would have left. So fulfilling were her years there that she even has an award named after her: The Tasheka Sutton-Young Spirit Award. A rare achievement for anybody alive. The annual award is given to a student who positively reflects sorority and fraternity life.
As with most careers, there has been a disappointment for every handful of successes. Working with college adults is especially sporadic because no day is ever the same. For Sutton-Young, the hardest part of the job is letting down a student or failing to meet your accomplishments. One day, for instance, a student may die on you. When it first happened to Sutton-Young, she did not know how to react.
“At Iona we had a student pass away. Sometimes those are the most difficult moments in life as a young professional, to have a student die in the building and to know there’s nothing I could do about that. To know there’s no way you can smooth it over, for lack of a better word,” she said. “The first time that happened to me, I don’t think I handled the situation well because I was in a moment of grieving and it didn’t feel like I was there for my students at the time because I was grieving the student that passed away,” she said. Her voice was steady and somber. Her brown eyes lost their warmth as she recalled the moment.
“And sometimes, you have to see past that. I’ve had more than one student pass away, but the first time that happened… if I could take that moment back I would.”
Sutton-Young’s no-nonsense attitude makes her seem intimidating to students. The name “Tasheka” tends to make some people quiver- it’s a side effect of working in the office of the president. After all, most students who enter that office are either in trouble or looking to get out of trouble. However, hearing the director of Student Life, Maria Patestas speak about her, you would never believe anyone found Sutton-Young unapproachable.
“My favorite part of knowing her is that while she’s super serious at aspects, there are times when we crack up laughing to the point where we can’t stop,” said Patestas.
One of those times was in Student Life a couple years ago. There was a giant stack of boxes in the office. Patestas thought the boxes were filled with yearbooks. She thought it would be okay to sit on since yearbooks are generally heavy items. By the time she realized she was gravely mistaken, she had crossed the point of no return. There’s no way to recover from a fall once you passed that point. Suddenly, she was on the floor in a sea of empty boxes. The look on Sutton-Young’s face and the tears in her eyes still make Patestas giggle today. The two spent the next half hour laughing and have been laughing about it since.
Part of Sutton-Young’s charm is her consistency. She says she has the same disciplinary attitude in the workplace that she does with her children. She teaches them that there is a time for play and a time for seriousness. So thorough is her consistency that her daughters mimic her mannerisms, from dressing up for certain occasions to chastising her if they are late to an event. The qualities that she instilled in her children are the qualities that she thinks make her good at her job. Meticulous organization, being a good secret keeper and knowing when and where to speak.
If there’s anything that hinders her job, she would say it’s her perfectionist attitude. She feels there is always a way to improve.
“There are a couple of things I live by that I think are important to know. Your word is your word. People have to say understand that when you say you’re going to do something, you’re going to do it,” she said. “You have to be honest.”