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UNT’s hidden figures: Mama Joyce’s contagious charisma brings joy to students

UNT’s hidden figures: Mama Joyce’s contagious charisma brings joy to students

“Mama” Joyce Nixon serves a student a sandwich during the lunch rush. West Hall has a section of its cafeteria named after Nixon, which serves southern, homestyle food.

UNT’s hidden figures: Mama Joyce’s contagious charisma brings joy to students
March 01
14:32 2018

As the daylight creeps steadily across campus, the hungry slew of sleepwalking students make their way toward the cafeterias. This underwhelming routine consists of piling food on a plate and kick-starting the morning with a cup of coffee.

Unbeknownst to them, a smiling face at Bruce Hall Cafeteria takes in the scene with pride.

Joyce Nixon is a cafeteria worker and manager of Bruce.

“[Joyce] truthfully cares about the students — not just the students coming in through the door but the student employees as well,” saidAndrew Klipsch, Bruce general manager.

She greets each individual with a smile, responding to a chorus of “good mornings” from students that have affectionately coined her as “Mama Joyce.”

Though her position keeps her busy with important tasks, she is never too busy to interact with those who walk into her cafeteria. Having worked at UNT for more than 13 years, Klipsch describes her as “someone who believes in leading by example [and] is never afraid to jump in and get the job done.”

While many cafeterias on campus can claim with confidence that the charismatic personality of Miss Joyce contributed to the inner workings of their staff at one point, Joyce also means business.

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“Mama” Joyce Nixon manages Bruce Hall’s cafeteria and its’ employees. Nixon is known for leading by example and teaching life skills among students.

“She’s a hard worker — don’t let the gray hair fool you, she really knows how to get the job done,” senior Joshua Oluwagbemiga said.

Oluwagbemiga has known “Mama J,” as he refers to her, since his freshman year. For a time, he alternated working in different cafeterias, yet was always drawn to working at Bruce with “Mama J.” He recalls three different instances in which he returned to Bruce to be reunited with whom he considers to be a great motivator for him.

He also attributes his success as a hard-working individual to Joyce’s insight as a mentor. Even now, as a senior close to the finish line, he makes an effort to visit Joyce as often as possible. Although Oluwagbemiga no longer works in the cafeteria alongside his greatest inspiration, he holds her lessons close to his heart forever.

With a smile that stretches to reach his eyes, he attempts to convey her importance to him.

“Even when she tells you that you’re doing something wrong, it’s not out of hatred — it’s out of love because she sees that you can do better,” Oluwagbemiga said. “As a result of having someone like that above you in your workplace, you [gain] a whole different mindset of what a job [well done] can do, and you keep looking forward to your best self and looking forward to seeing her.”

This is a common conclusion echoed by Joyce’s past and current coworkers.

“Though some students think she’s tough, she’s [only] that way because she cares about them,” Klipsch said. “There are some students who love Miss Joyce, and some students who don’t know what they’re getting into with her because [they’ve] never had an adult figure who holds them to a [high] standard.”

In fact, Joyce prides herself on holding her students to a high standard.

“Just because this is a cafeteria [doesn’t mean that you won’t learn] life skills, and life skills transfer everywhere,” Joyce explained, as she delves into her methods challenging students.

Having grown up in Decatur, Illinois, in the ’60s, she recounts how different the times were back then. As a teenage student, restaurants were the only workplaces available to her. There weren’t existing programs that allowed for coexistence of schoolwork and career. Though she couldn’t work as much as she would have liked due to this, she still learned many valuable lessons she now imparts on her subordinates.

Joyce comments on the cyclical nature of wisdom, noting that the women in her workplace inspired her through knowledge they acquired from their own experiences. Now she gets to share her own experience-based wisdom with her students.

“If you don’t challenge them, what are they going to do when they get out into the workforce?” Joyce said.

These lessons have apparently paid off, as one of her former students wrote her a card after he graduated from UNT that read, “I thought you were just being so hard on me, but then I realized you were teaching me how to be organized and on time.”

As her voice swelled with pride, she elaborated that this same UNT alumnus now works for Ford Motor Company’s corporate office.

“When he came back, I told him — I said — ‘If you wouldn’t have learned how to work and be organized, and if you were late — man, corporate America doesn’t care,” Joyce said. “‘That’s your fault. [You’ll] get terminated.’ [And that’s what] you gotta learn early on here [at Bruce].”

Due to the things Joyce has experienced, she has never let anything stand in her way.

“I’m female,” Joyce said. “I’m African. So all those things, instead of playing for [me], they played against. There was just so much going on in the ’60s — women who didn’t work were wanting to work. It wasn’t easy. But you just keep on going and you don’t stop and, whatever comes along, you deal with it and keep going.”

Through all of the inspiration she has spread across UNT, she is still bewildered by the impact she has caused and is even confused as to why people would want to read her story.

But, Klipsch insists her story is one that needs to be told.

“I don’t think that there’s [just one] thing you should know about her,” Klipsch said.

Though her job consists of students asking her for things daily, all she asks for in return is their best.

Featured Image: “Mama” Joyce Nixon serves a student a sandwich during the lunch rush. West Hall has a section of its cafeteria named after Nixon, which serves southern, homestyle food. Rachel Walters

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Xaviera Hernandez

Xaviera Hernandez

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