During my first week living in Thurston Hall, somebody put a fish in a communal shower. And as much as I enjoyed watching a student carry the fish barehanded down seven flights of stairs to solemnly present it to a very bewildered security guard, our custodial staff was likely much less amused to scrub remnants of dead fish goo off the shower floor at 10 p.m. The fish incident represented a larger issue that has continued throughout the semester – students aren’t treating our custodial staff with respect. Students have been making unnecessarily excessive messes in communal spaces, and they haven’t made an effort to get to know our staff on a more personal level despite the fact that we interact with them multiple times each day.
From leaving piles of food scraps and unwashed dishes in the shared kitchen sinks to leaving hair, human waste and fish in the communal bathrooms, students are making a mess of their residence halls and taking advantage of the fact that someone else will have to clean it. Thurston Hall’s community coordinators have already told residents via email to stop clogging the toilets with paper towels and clothes. This behavior has added yet another burden upon the building’s already busy custodial staff.
The custodial staff aren’t our personal maids or butlers – they have actual work to do, and their contributions to our community deserve appreciation. They’re responsible for disposing of food scraps or wiping up accidental spills, cleaning the bathrooms to make sure they’re sanitary and taking out our communal trash bins. They shouldn’t be responsible for getting clothes out of our toilets, and dealing with a dead fish in the showers wasn’t in their job description. Instead of mindlessly leaving huge messes in our wake, we can act more considerately to custodial staff.
One of the main reasons why I and other students likely chose to attend GW is the student body’s impressive commitment to social advocacy and equity. I view the University as one that prides itself on valuing and appreciating all members of the diverse identities among its staff and student body. So when I moved into Thurston Hall, I couldn’t help but feel there was a contrast between the values that students preached and the behavior that actually takes place on campus. Students seem to make little effort to get to know our custodial staff and often don’t acknowledge our custodians’ presence at all. I, too, can be hesitant to say hello when passing by staff in the hallway or on the elevator, and so I understand that many people simply find it awkward to interact with others whom they don’t know. But just because this subtle disregard is understandable doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
When I was leaving Thurston last Friday, my friend asked a custodian visibly struggling to push an oversized garbage bin into the building if he needed help holding open the door. Although he declined, he seemed to deeply appreciate the fact she volunteered. “Thank you,” he said. “You’re the only person who asked.” He pointed out to us all the students who were walking by, none of whom had offered help with the door. “All these people, and you’re the only one who asked.”
It is essential for all members of the student body to make sure that we’re getting to know and actively supporting the custodial staff instead of scarcely acknowledging their existence. Custodians should not have to feel unseen while cleaning up after students who don’t feel the need to ever say hello, ask their names or take 10 seconds out of their day to hold a door for them. They should not have to feel like students are taking advantage of them with extravagant amounts of disarray left for staff to handle.
When I spoke to some of the women from our custodial staff, they expressed a genuine appreciation for the students who say hello and stop to chat, and she said these interactions can foster a family-like feeling.
We’re surrounded by an incredibly friendly and genuine staff that seeks to support the GW community. Our custodial staff exhibits a real compassion and kindness toward us, and we do ourselves a disservice when we overlook them in return. So say hello when you bump into them in the hallway or on the elevator. And the next time you’re about to leave your mess unattended, remember the humanity of those who have to clean it.
Chloe Werner, a freshman majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.