Students learn lessons in listening from on-campus vendor, Tye Dye Thom
Chances are if you take classes on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale Campus you’ve seen, bought something from, and most likely debated with Tye Dye Thom. He didn’t want his real name published in the story, but between his patchwork pants, long hippie hair, and a tent tricked out in tye dye and reggae swag, he’s hard to miss.
He co-owns a company, called Enchanted Planet, which is based out of Tennessee, and for the last 14 years he’s travelled to college campuses across the United States to pitch up his tent, and try to make a living and an impact at the same time.
His story, like most cartoons college-aged kids hold dear to their development, began in the late ‘90s. A University of West Florida graduate with a degree in history, he was living in New Orleans when a dishwasher walked into a friend’s restaurant and shot three people – an $800 hit that claimed the lives of three of Tye Dye Thom’s close friends.
“It was a restaurant that I went into every day, and they were people that I cared greatly for, so I said I couldn’t live in New Orleans anymore,” he said.
Departures and arrivals
He started in the southern states, and after his mother became ill and he moved her to Bowling Green, Ohio, he started exploring the Midwest. He made it to GVSU in the mid-2000s, and right away, he said he knew it was a place that he could get used to.
“You might think it’s lip service, you might think I’m just trying to politically correct, but I came here and the people who work the (Office of Student Life)– Kellie and Fred and Michelle and Bob and all those people – it just was so easy to fall in love with this place,” he said. “…It’s one of those things where, they give you enough rope to hang yourself. So if you come and you don’t do a good job, or if you’re rude to the students, or if you don’t pay them, then you can’t come back. Basically, they give you the opportunity to pass or fail on your own accord, and I’ve done well enough to be invited back.”
GVSU likes him, too. Bob Stoll, director of the Office of Student Life, said Tye Dye Thom has been a fixture of campus life at GVSU since he came.
“Thom’s been coming for a lot of years, and he brings stuff that people are interested in, but he also brings a sense of engagement in the sense that often we’ll talk to students about world affairs and issues,” Stoll said. “He has a good way of talking about philosophy and helping students feel better as the day goes on.”
Philanthropy and politics
From Alternative Breaks to fraternities and sororities, Tye Dye Thom has donated a part of his earning to a multitude of student groups at GVSU; right now, he’s raising money for the Crones and Colitis Foundation, and he thinks of the donates as an important part of his mission on campuses he vends at. He says he chooses what he donates to based off its impact – he wants to donate to “inclusive” groups that support people from all walks of life, which makes sense if you consider his role as a campus conversationalist.
Sparking discussion that has been known to start heated debates between both patrons and bystanders, it’s not about winning favor for his particular point of views. For him, it’s about opening the floor up to debate itself.
“I find that students who are the most troubling to me are the one’s who think they already have the answers,” he said. “To compare it right now to the political arena, there are people that believe in Barack Obama and there are people that believe in Mitt Romney – you’re 20, you should believe both of them. You should try and be able to filter through the information.” His goal in bringing up hot-button social and political issues, he said, is to see if students can “argue without being argumentative” and “disagree with someone without being rude.” Facilitating civil discussion and encouraging thoughtful inquiry is really all that Tye Dye Thom is after.
“For the most part, at this school, I’ve really never had a student be rude about it, they just may believe differently about it,” he said. “And that’s what makes the strength of our country, is that we believe differently from each other…
“I’m trying to see if they will let me make a point, if they will let me allow them to make a point – the idea of, you know, listen ‘I just spoke, now you speak, now I speak. Because right now,” he said, “it seems like everybody is just talking over each other – there’s just too much noise.”
In his opinion, the only way to be a good leader is to be a good listener, and discussing politics is just a perk for his larger mission, dedicated to openness to fallibility.
“It’s important to have an opinion, it’s important to make sure you can change your opinion, because the only thing consistent in this world is change,” he said.
He said working with college kids keeps him young, on the edge of what’s hot in both his products and in the music world. Oh, and for the record, he did follow the Grateful Dead for 10 years, which is how he got into the vending business in the first place.
And though tragedy led him to where he is today, it’s that sense of adventure and the consistency of change that has kept him there.
“So, understand that life is too mysterious to take serious,” he said. “You have to have a little fun in your day, and college kids keep me fun.”
He won’t be back on campus until November and in the interim, he’ll continue vending at colleges nationwide. And though Tye Dye Thom has spent the last 14 years setting up camp on the campuses of most of America’s colleges and universities, he said there’s no place quite like GVSU.
“You can actually see the promise of America being fulfilled in these students. That’s not republican, that’s not democrat, that’s just human.”
Pictures of the Year 2012-2013
8:00 am | MBA Information Meeting: AM session
10:00 am | SAP Farm Stand
5:30 pm | MBA Information Meeting: PM Session
7:30 am | GVSU Downtown Toastmasters
11:00 am | GVSU Track & Field at NCAA Championships
5:30 pm | MBA Information Meeting: Holland
7:00 pm | Failure Lab
11:00 am | GVSU Track & Field at NCAA Championships
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