Eustace B. Nifkin first appeared on our campus back in the 1940s. No one ever actually saw the mysterious, unofficial student but the name kept appearing on class rosters and other official documents. Nifkin got around: the college received postcards from all over the world signed with the name. Other students were so fond of Nifkin that this shadowy figure usually appeared in the yearbook and got mentioned during commencement speeches.
People made assumptions about what Nifkin looked like. He was probably a young white male and definitely the outdoorsy type. He studied forestry, of course — that’s before the college began focusing on environmental issues. Nifkin probably hunted and fished, and surely he owned a chainsaw.
By the time I began teaching on the campus in the 1990s, the profile of Nifkin had changed. Students assured me that they’d caught glimpses of Nifkin: a tree-hugging hippie who wore a tie-dye shirt and birkenstocks while protesting environmental injustices. Nifkin, everyone said, didn't know the 60s were over.
Today, you can still find Nifkin hiking or skiing, fishing or hunting, but you might also find Nifkin working in an urban community garden or poring over environmental regulations on a laptop. No one knows any more whether Nifkin is a man or a woman. Nifkin has diversified, you might say.
The student lounge on our campus is a big room that has a stained glass window at the back of a low stage, comfortable chairs that get yanked into all kinds of configuration, a piano that usually needs to be tuned, and tables to accommodate anyone who had just gotten food at the snack bar. Student go there to meet friends, to study, to nap on the couches, and for evening events of every type. It's the room where student life happens. The administration named the room “Alumni Lounge” but students always call it Nifkin.
When my students and I were trying to figure out how to build a network amongst ourselves, amongst alumni, and amongst allies all over the world, we began using the hashtag #nifkin on twitter, sort of as an inside joke. But then, when we least expected it, Eustace B. Nifkin appeared on the scene. Yes, Nifkin has a twitter account and that loyal, unofficial student has been nicely collecting our tweets, retweeting them out into the world.
The twitter handle is pretty easy to remember: @FollowNifkin