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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

True Grinnellian: Russ Motta

Photo courtesy of Grinnell College.
Photo courtesy of Grinnell College.

In 1994, Russ Motta was living on Elm Street, in law school and in need of a part time job. He had been going to Burling Library to study and took a part time job at the College that he knew would give him additional time to study.

“Law degrees are not all that they’re cracked up to be. After a couple years I thought, ‘This is kind of boring,’ and so I thought ‘Well, I’ll go do something else.’”

Motta had been a chief of police in Colorado and applied to a couple chief of police jobs in Iowa. “When I was offered the job, it turned out that Grinnell College was going to have a security department. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, rather than to go become a chief of police there, I think I could just stay here ‘cause I like it.’ I like Grinnell College. It’s a really interesting place to work, fun people to be around. So instead of taking the chief of police job I stayed here. 26 years later, I’m now done,” said Motta, who just recently retired from his position with Campus Safety.

Motta says the job has never been boring.

“I like working with students, always learning something new from students. It’s kind of fun to sit down with them, find out what their major is and what they’re studying,” said Motta.

“Part of my thought always was that everybody has purpose here. If you’re a professor your purpose is to teach, if you’re a student your purpose is to learn and it’s like, okay if you lock yourself out of your dorm — so what? If you’re focusing on learning you forget your keys and you’re like ‘Oh crap I forgot my keys!’ So, my job is to pick up on all those peripherals that shouldn’t make a difference one way or another that actually detract from learning. … For the most part, students at Grinnell College are really intense. When they focus on something, they really get into it,” said Motta. “You remember why you’re here, you’re here to learn. You keep learning and I’ll help you with this other stuff.”

Motta has been with campus safety since its foundation and has witnessed its growth and evolution through changes on campus as well as historical changes like the implementation of Title IX and the Clery Act.

“We didn’t know how we wanted it to work or not work. It’s been an evolving situation and now we’re here. What we were doing fifteen years ago and what we’re doing now is totally different.”

Motta has made a wealth of friends over the years and has garnered a reputation as one of the friendliest faces on campus. Alumni will come back to Grinnell 20 years later and catch up with him. “It’s been a riot,” said Motta after running into an old friend in Saints Rest while being interviewed.

Motta says policing came to him serendipitously. “My mom was afraid I was going to drown so she had me take life-saving swim classes. I just kept going on and on and on and all of a sudden, I got certified as a lifeguard. My buddy and I liked to go rock climbing and backpacking and they said ‘You know what? You should take Red Cross first aid.’ So we took first aid. We get out of high school and we get jobs as lifeguards at a summer camp. On our day off we’re rock climbing.”

Someone called over Motta and his friend and told them a child from a church group had gone missing. The child was found stuck in a dry waterfall. After helping get him to safety, Motta and his friend were offered search and rescue jobs in California. He then went on to school at the University of Colorado.

As a student, Motta expected to get a job working in the dining hall. Motta was instead offered a job with the University of Colorado Boulder Police Department. There were limited jobs on campus at the time and Motta accepted the gig.

Navigating a job in law enforcement on a college campus during the Vietnam War was not without its challenges.

“Tricky Dick [President Richard Nixon] sent troops into Cambodia. Nobody was happy about the Vietnam War, anyway, and no one was happy about the expansion of the Vietnam War outside of Vietnam. All of a sudden, there were riots and all that kind of stuff. They’re going, ‘Okay you guys gotta hold on to the administration build ing.’ It’s like, ‘You gotta be kidding me, I’m a student! … This is so weird, we can’t believe it.’”

Motta is currently making travel plans, including seeing his three children. One is studying at Oxford University, one lives in Nashville Tenn. and one works for Oregon State University. “They all three live in fun places,” he said.

When he’s not traveling, Motta will be in Grinnell, probably chatting with any number of people he’s gotten to know over the years.

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