“Hey, how’re you doing?” A janitor who has worked on the third floor of Gelman Library almost every night for the past 35 years greeted me warmly while she cleaned the desk of the cubicle next to me. It was 2:30 a.m. Most of the students had left the library by then, but as a night owl, I see her almost every evening. We have known each other since I was a freshman last year. Whenever I’ve been overwhelmed by all of my assignments and readings, I have always found quick chat with her more refreshing than a sip of coffee.
However, other students and members of the community could easily neglect her contributions, as well as those of other University employees who do building maintenance or service work. Many students may take the clean desks in the library every morning for granted. I wouldn’t have recognized how hard janitors work if I didn’t see her wiping all the desks on the floor every single night. She is always meticulous with her work and dedicated to the job, even when she told me she was sick. As a result, I often help her pick up the trash and move the chairs around where I sit. And every night when I leave the library, I make sure to say thank you and wish her a good night.
To better show appreciation and support for University employees, GW should designate days for the student body to collectively honor their contributions. The University should also establish an online feedback and complaint system where employees can instantly submit requests or concerns so that their problems are addressed. This would allow the community to build stronger awareness and better cherish the labor of University employees.
Similar initiatives to celebrate and thank University employees like janitors, shuttle drivers and security guards already exist at other institutions. For example, a Georgetown University student started a new organization last year, Unsung Heroes, to provide a platform for University employees like janitors and custodians to share their stories. The organization posts profiles of employees and their stories on its Facebook page with quotes, pictures and videos. It now has chapters on five other university campuses nationwide, according to its website. A chapter at GW was launched in September, but the chapter hasn’t done anything substantial yet. The chapter should become more active, but even that isn’t enough. Although it’s a great channel to acknowledge the dedication of University employees, the effort of only one student organization is not sufficient to generate widespread impact. There needs to be more action from both student organizations and the University to drive students all over campus to show appreciation for campus employees and create a better working environment for them.
For employees at GW to receive concrete appreciation and recognition, the University itself should step up to better address their concerns. Specifically, GW should design an online complaint system that is accessible to every University employee. Whenever employees like janitors or shuttle drivers discover something that can be changed to make their job easier or let them work more efficiently, they should be able to easily submit a request online. This way, University departments can help mediate their individual issues. Given the compact nature of their jobs, employees need a convenient way to express their needs besides meetings with University personnel through unions. This direct communication process will allow the University and employees to have timely conversations before actions are taken unilaterally by one side. This occurred in 2016 when about 15 dining workers lost their jobs after the University switched vendors from Sodexo to Restaurant Associates. An online system can enable a timely response from the University to help optimize employees’ working conditions.
However, implementing a simple online complaint system for employees to voice concern is not enough to show appreciation for these employees. Ultimately, it’s just as important that they receive respect and recognition from students. They are the members who benefit most from the work and services offered by University employees. The system can also be used for suggestions on how to build better relations between employees and the student body. To get more students involved in showing gratitude to University employees, the University should hold an Appreciation Day every semester where students say thank you and can prepare small gifts to the employees. Even though it would only be a day or two per semester, this could help spur students to change their mindset and be thankful all year long for those who silently work to offer a better living and learning environment on campus.
We say thank you to professors and instructors after classes, to cashiers who hand us our food and groceries and to student employees who help us on different occasions on campus. There’s no reason for us to ignore those who maintain the quality of our lives just because we don’t directly interact with them. While University employees like janitors are paid for the work they do, we still need to demonstrate respect and appreciation for their contributions just as we do for other members of this community. With the combined efforts from both the University and student organizations, GW as a whole could become a warmer and more harmonious community filled with gratitude among all of its members.
Marx Wang, a sophomore double-majoring in philosophy and political science, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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This article appeared in the December 4, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.