Phillip Ensler: Appreciating those without titles

I am not a big reality television fan, but a new show on CBS called “Undercover Boss” has caught my attention. Unlike some of the more popular shows, “Undercover Boss” doesn’t promote fame and fortune. It applauds the hard work and humility of rank-and-file employees at big businesses. Its exposure of and focus on the adversity and commitment of these often unrecognized and anonymous employees reminds me of the staff that keeps our University running – the staff that does not have members with the title provost, dean or professor before their name.

As college students, we are consumed in what often feel likes a never-ending academic workload, using any free moments we have to enjoy the social corridors of college life. Often underappreciated are those who help make this life possible.

For example, have you ever left Gelman after a long night of studying and noticed how, even in the wee hours of the morning, Gelman is still clean? No? Well, it is because the janitorial staff worked throughout the night picking up trash and straightening chairs. Similarly, the maintenance staff, University Police Department, 4-RIDE drivers, J Street workers, and other individuals provide vital – yet often unnoticed – services on campus.

As GW students, we should learn a lesson from the CEOs and other head honchos who go incognito on “Undercover Boss” and become more appreciative of the work of these employees on campus.

We see the blue-collar workers every day, encounter them regularly and rely on them immeasurably. And like the CEOs, we benefit enormously from the services of the staff, but then often take it for granted. We neglect to recognize the workers as individuals who each have their own stories, hardships, dreams, and families. When we pile into a 4-RIDE van at 2 a.m., it is easy to be consumed by our BlackBerrys, by conversations with our friends or by worries about tomorrow’s exam, but we shouldn’t forget that the man or woman behind the wheel of the 4-RIDE vehicle is an individual like each of us.

Many students often dream of a future as a government or business leader, with a six-figure salary to match. Society regularly invokes the success of bankers, the heroism of firefighters and the glamour of celebrities, but what about the work of blue-collar workers, like janitors and food servers? The contributions and services these workers provide are just as important as the work of those who are conventionally held in higher regard.

I feel that as students, our interactions with such people are minimal, if at times nonexistent. Pleasantries are seldom exchanged, not because either parties are hostile individuals, but rather because students often do not make much of an effort to interact.

My plea for us to be more cognizant of the workers on campus is not because I never see students give thanks. I have seen many students genuinely thank workers, in particular after Snowmageddon, when the GW community was very vocal about how grateful it was for the employees who stayed beyond their normal work hours to help with the arduous cleanup of campus. But, this appreciation should not be limited to only times of rare circumstance. We should reciprocate, go undercover and let their efforts be appreciated year round.

So, next time you leave Gelman at 2 a.m., I encourage you to take a moment to say hello to the people cleaning and thank them for their work. The next time you see UPD officers walking the halls of your residence hall to do a routine check, acknowledge their presence and ask them how their day is going. And, next time you get driven somewhere by 4-RIDE, instead of just handing the driver your GWorld and telling them where you’re going, engage them in a conversation, and let them know how much you appreciate them being there to ensure you get wherever you are going safely.

The writer, a sophomore majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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