Someone who has never met Campus Safety and Security officer Robert Bleau might very well be intimidated by this man, who has extensive security training and a military background, and more to the point, is responsible for keeping Williams students in line. I admit that I was pretty nervous myself, if only because I was still unsure of how to pronounce his last name. However, mere minutes after I began my conversation with Mr. Bleau, his pleasant voice and warm smile that have graced Williams for 30 years put me at ease.
Just two weeks ago, in fact, Bleau celebrated the 30-year anniversary of his employment at the College. In addition to his own personal accolades, he was given the honor of accepting the 2010 Berkshire Hero’s award from the Bay State Games on Saturday, Jan. 23. The Berkshire Hero’s award was given to the College in recognition for its 25 years of support and in thanks for hosting the Bay State Games year after year in our own home rink.
Bleau’s extensive career with Williams College began in 1980, long before any current student (no matter how many post-grad years, interim periods or years abroad before beginning school) was even born. After seeing an ad in the newspaper, Bleau, a native of Bennington, Vt., travelled to Williamstown seeking a job in security. After being interviewed, Bleau was the one, out of several candidates, selected for the post and immediately began working for the College. “I’m a country boy at heart,” Bleau said, explaining why he wanted to stay close to his hometown. “This is where I belong.”
A typical day in the life of Bleau is anything but typical. Although his days all start relatively the same way, it is the moments between walking into his office on the lower level of Hopkins to the time he retires for the night that keep things interesting. In addition to patrolling campus and ensuring the well-being of students, Bleau is also involved in things not so visible to the general public. Bleau is an integral partner in investigations and incidents that occur campus-wide. He is the man assisting you in everything – from when your bike happens to be stolen at some ungodly hour on a Saturday night to when your unnamed roommate has a nervous breakdown and you begin to fear for your own personal safety. From patrol, to disciplinary meetings, to (attempting to) maintaining peace and propriety at Goodrich and other late-night venues, Bleau is a force at the College.
What specific quirks and little grimy details does he love or hate about the College? Well, for one thing, you probably won’t see him frequenting any dining halls. “No! No, I have my own food,” Bleau said when asked if he had a favorite dining hall. “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve eaten in all the dining halls and I love the food, whether it’s Greylock or Mission. But if I had to choose … Driscoll.”
Seeing the campus change physically over 30 years, Bleu said that for the most part, he likes the way all the buildings look and function now. “Many of the alumni loved the old student center, Baxter,” Bleu said. “I have to admit, when I walked into Paresky, I was like ‘wow.’” Good wow? Bad wow? “‘I was just kind of not sure about it. I was overwhelmed.”
One thing Bleau really enjoys is forming relationships with students. While he may not interact with them in classrooms, and certainly does not see them around dining halls, he has other methods of interacting with students that in the long-run perhaps build even closer relationships. Instead of making enemies with repeat offenders he has to deal with (“I’m not going to mention any names”), he often finds himself growing closer to them. “I am a teacher,” Bleau said. “Sometimes it’s like a bubble here, you could say a purple bubble. Kids forget that their actions mean something, especially in the real world.” His ultimate goal? “Hopefully I help students learn how to handle themselves so that when they get out of college they won’t commit any crimes.”
The closest friends he ever made, he feels, were back about 20 years ago when he worked the night shift. For obvious reasons, during the night shift he encountered more errant young Ephs. But Bleau also recalls that kids “were just more blatant and flamboyant in their transgressions back then.” What exactly kids did back then was not to be revealed. “I don’t remember their stories or the incidents. There were too many of them,” Bleau said. Yet many an alum has come back to reminisce with Bleau about the good old days.
Don’t worry, though, you still have time to befriend Bleau – he plans to stay at the college for a while yet. “My time at the College has been just a lot of fun,” said Bleau. “I’ve met a lot of great people here over the years and I don’t doubt that I will continue to meet more. I couldn’t ask for a better job. I like serving and I like helping.”
Perhaps you would do better to heed Bleau’s final words of wisdom from afar, however: “Students should be themselves when they’re out and about on campus in their academic and social activities. Look out for one another. Try to help themselves. Get a well rounded education.”