Anna Lee ’24
Like any typical college student, students at the College of the Holy Cross surround themselves with coursework, takeout boxes, and social events as soon as the semester picks up. But as students turn inward, pushing themselves to meet deadlines and quotas, others in the Holy Cross body are left to pick up the enormous messes that students leave behind.
Holy Cross’s custodians are possibly the most important people on campus, and at the same time, the most underappreciated and disrespected. When students and faculty rarely see the faces that keep facilities clean and their offices mess-free, it becomes easy for many in the Holy Cross community to disrespect these spaces with little regard for who the job falls to.
Possibly the most common example of disregard for Holy Cross facilities among students are the dorms. Notorious for their quickly-made messes and unfriendly surprises in the bathrooms and halls, students can find themselves frustrated and uncomfortable in their environments. But for the few hours a week that it lasts, students are offered a reprieve by custodians who, by completing small tasks like refreshing the toilet paper supply and taking out the trash, relieve much of the stress that comes from a messy environment. But when the mess regenerates itself everyday, custodians are forced to work nonstop. As one puts it, “It can get really overwhelming.”
The grueling demands for Holy Cross custodians are more than what can be observed on the surface level. According to a job listing posted on the Holy Cross website, a typical position requires 40 hours of work per week for all 52 weeks of the year (“Employment Opportunities,” Holy Cross Website). Other demands of the position include lifting 50 to 75 pound objects, shampooing carpets, and using interpersonal skills to direct students and faculty to the right places. And outside of the job, custodians are expected to take classes on cleaning methods and orientations on new chemicals whenever necessary. Many custodians’ shifts also do not conform to the typical nine to five schedule, including hours from 2:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. Many students and faculty take refuge in the few hours they have left at the end of the day to decompress with their families and friends, but for custodians who work into the early hours of the morning, this is a luxury they cannot afford. Considering the amount of time that custodians sacrifice for the upkeep of the school, and the atrocities that some students leave behind, it’s clear why there are over ten custodian positions currently open on Holy Cross’s application site.
The underappreciation of manual labor jobs like custodians, dining service workers, and landscapers might be rooted in the environment that many Holy Cross students come from. According to a survey from the New York Times in January 2017, a Holy Cross student’s family has a median income of $170,700, with about 71 percent of all students coming from the top twentieth income percentile (“College of the Holy Cross”). Apart from empirical evidence, it’s a well-known fact that Holy Cross students have legacies at the College going back generations. This accumulation of generational wealth, prestige, and security means that most of these students have never worked physically or emotionally demanding jobs in cleaning, customer service, or a combination of both. What results from this lack of experience is, likewise, a lack of empathy, and little thought for who these messes fall to when students neglect to pick up after themselves.
At the same time, a privileged background is not an excuse for failing to realize the hardships of a custodian position at Holy Cross. To a certain point, young adults of any background should know that assuming responsibility for a mess they’ve made is an integral part of character. They should also know that although a custodian’s job is to maintain and promote cleanliness in facilities, adding onto those responsibilities out of neglect or laziness is poor judgement. In addition, neglecting responsibility for personal messes violates the values that Holy Cross tries to instill in its students. For example, the Jesuit principle that Holy Cross students and alumni hold themselves to, being a “man or woman for and with others,” does not manifest itself in how students treat custodians. It is not so much a mutual relationship like the principle suggests, but a one-sided service that is never fully appreciated by the receiving end.
With these issues in mind, there is a plethora of changes Holy Cross students can make to improve Holy Cross custodians’ experiences. At a bare minimum, thanking custodians for the work they do and proceeding to stop neglectful actions is a good start. This means not leaving trash on the floor but putting it in the bin, cleaning spilled drinks from the floor instead of waiting for someone else to do it, and treating shared spaces as though they are exactly that—shared.
Another basic improvement students can take is by treating custodians as more than employees of the College. For example, addressing custodians as students would a peer or faculty would a colleague may make a stark difference in their day. Too often, students equate custodians to a uniform. Making connections with the custodians and then sustaining those connections is one way to revive the principle of being a “man or woman for and with others.” From these initial changes, students should challenge themselves to go further when thinking about how they can help make an experience on the Hill better for everyone involved—for students, professors, workers, and especially custodians.