Published August 29, 2016
Step off the elevator onto the third floor of Baldy Hall on UB’s North Campus and you’ll notice eye-catching stickers of paisley birds adhered to the wall and a pillar adorned with colorful peace signs, hearts and flowers. The sudden bursts of lively color signal Azita Safaie’s office is nearby.
Across from the pillar, Safaie’s doorway boasts signs encouraging passersby to “make your own road” and “seize the day.” The Grateful Dead’s iconic bears march across the top of the door. A Safezone sticker directly above the doorknob marks the room as a welcoming place for all.
“I look out, and I want something happy,” says Safaie, undergraduate academic adviser for communication students, who placed the cheerful stickers on the door and pillar after growing tired of the unimaginative view from her desk.
Walk into her office, and Safaie greets you with a smile from behind her desk. Natural light pours through the window, but a lamp perched in the corner of her desk casts a warm glow throughout the space. Inviting purple walls and shelves teeming with keepsakes stray from traditional office ornamentation.
Safaie’s current office is not the first space she has transformed into a vivid and unique sanctuary. She revamped her previous office, which she moved into at the start of her role as adviser in the Department of Communication, in 2005.
“When we had a chance to paint, everyone kind of went with the light blue and careful colors,” she says.
Safaie decided to go in a bolder direction. She fell in love with a vibrant shade of purple in the pattern of a scarf, and apprehensively considered it for her wall color.
“I’m not artistic at all,” she says. “I couldn’t see the color and I wasn’t sure how that color would look on my wall. But I took a chance and it looked so wonderful.”
Safaie duplicated the daring color when she moved into her new office in 311 Baldy. The walls are covered with splashy stickers, small mirrors in ornate metal frames, and colorful pictures and prints.
Shelves lining a wall burst with items she’s acquired during her travels. A small Spiderman figurine that once belonged to her son rests against an ornamental box. Decorative pillows placed on the two chairs across from her desk and a plush area rug add to the coziness of the room.
The inaugural visit to an adviser’s office can cause uneasiness for some, but Safaie says her eclectic décor breaks the ice and alleviates students’ anxiety.
“I think that first of all, students come here to learn, and in order to learn you have to have a comfortable, nice environment,” Safaie says. “I have many students who come to me for other things than their studies. I think it’s because of that initial meeting.”
Safaie, who moved to the U.S. from Iran after the Iranian Revolution in 1979, took on the role as academic adviser to positively enhance the college experience for students. She attended the Park School of Buffalo and later graduated from UB in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in French language and literature. A passionate supporter of human rights and women’s organizations, Safaie worked for the United Nations, but significant roadblocks to activating change caused her to reconsider her path.
She decided to go back to school, and enrolled in SUNY Buffalo State, where she graduated in 2001 with a master’s degree in student personnel and administration with a concentration in counseling. She recalls a tight-knit community at UB that felt like family, which motivated her to work for the university.
“I’m hoping to be able to duplicate that for my students,” she says. “Not having been born here gives me a lot of tools and insight into how someone else might be feeling. Not necessarily someone from a different country — just being different.
“I think that when you come to a university, you’re away from your family and you’re away from the environment you feel comfortable in. Recreating that comfort and ease helps you learn.”
Safaie strives to establish a familiar environment for her visitors because, she says, “if students aren’t happy, they aren’t learning.” Her artfully crafted office offers that positive space for students far outside their comfort zones who are experiencing educational and personal dilemmas.
The crowded shelves and vibrant walls create a lively space, and they aren’t short of pieces to admire. Safaie’s favorite piece — although fit for her bustling space — is one she keeps at home.
She treasures a small, handmade African doll given to her by a former student, whose extended family Safaie helped relocate to the United States. She utilized her own experiences to guide the family through the immigration process and help find them a place to stay. The student gave the doll to her in thanks.
“On a visit, she brought that doll for me,” she says. “That, to me, means a lot more than something I bought on a trip as a souvenir.”
Safaie handpicks all other decorations with the intent to place them in — or outside of — her office. A large pile of stickers behind her desk indicates she hopes to add even more purposeful and meaningful items to her already eclectic and vivacious space.
“It just kind of looks different, and a lot of people who walk by and haven’t been around make a comment,” she says. “It really makes me feel good, more than anything else, to be sitting here surrounded by things that I like. I’m hoping to pass that on to everybody who visits.”
I loved this article about Azita because it vividly captures one of the university's greatest assets: a staff member who goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Thank you for publicizing Azita's great talent and super positive efforts.
Mary B. Cassata