It’s undeniable that we as college students are very busy people. Before I arrived at Vassar, I was under the assumption that I would have hours of free time every day to do whatever I want.
After all, college students don’t have to wake up at 6 a.m. in the morning to catch the school bus or endure eight straight hours of school every day. Four credits per semester? That’s shouldn’t take up even half a school day, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. Every student has to face their own flood of assignments, readings, projects and essays that have to be completed as well as the various meaningful extracurricular activities that require hours of investment. Some may even need to make time for a part-time job in order to pay for tuition.
Combined with the inescapable threat of college debt looming over everyone’s shoulder, it is no one’s surprise that everyone here wants to get as much as they can from this million-dollar investment.
However, as important as it is to focus on making our time here worthwhile, we should not overlook the people working behind the scenes to make our experience at school as pleasant as possible: the custodial staff at Vassar.
College is usually seen as the first big step towards autonomy. “Your parents won’t be there to clean up after you,” adults say to anxious, prospective college freshmen. It’s a common saying used as either a snide remark or a warning to further hone in on the fact that we are responsible for ourselves now. After all, college is less like a first taste of independence and more of a deep plunge. But this statement isn’t completely true since there actually is someone cleaning after you. The job of the custodial staff at Vassar is truly a magic act; they have to make every indoor and outdoor mess caused by about 2,500 college students disappear overnight. They do this every single night.
To some, it may not seem like a big deal since, at first glance, there doesn’t seem to be anything in need of cleaning in the first place. It’s not like the janitors have to move mountains of trash off campus. But that just shows how incredibly amazing they are at their job. Believe me, people leave behind trash everywhere. If you observe closely, you may see wrappers, beer bottles and other refuse all over campus, especially out in the Quad. In addition, it’s almost a guarantee that the communal bathrooms and kitchens will always be in a gross state of disarray. But before people notice, the custodial and maintenance staff cleans everything up, making it seem as if the mess was never there.
The custodial staff is responsible for a wide range of grounds and residential maintenance work.
According to Vassar’s website, “… [the college] will also maintain a small team that will work 3 week days and 2 weekend days to maintain high use buildings that are open seven days a week.
“These include athletic and dining facilities, libraries, residence halls, the College Center, the Students’ Building, the Vogelstein Center for Drama and Film and Skinner Hall.”
And this lack of awareness of the various duties that janitors perform on a daily basis seems to be the main issue here.
The members of the custodial staff do such a good job that it’s not at first evident that there is even a problem regarding trash and cleanliness.
The campus and the dorms are always clean and tidy and they seem to stay that way every day. It creates an illusion of perpetual cleanliness, where everything always returns to the status quo.
With that relieving thought, it doesn’t really register in our minds that someone has to pick up every piece of trash we leave behind or clean up every mess we walk away from.
Well, some may ask what’s wrong with that; after all, isn’t it the job of janitors and custodians to keep the institution clean?
While it is true that the custodial staff is hired to clean the college every day, it isn’t an excuse to be thoughtless. Being a custodian is a pretty thankless job and they already have enough to do without us making more work for them.
We should always strive to make their jobs easier since it’s the least they deserve for making this place habitable. Ideally, the relationship between the student body and the custodial stuff should be one of mutual respect where the two can communicate and work together. In exchange for keeping our living spaces clean, we should always convey our gratitude and do whatever we can to lessen the load.
When students do recognize the efforts of the custodial staff, the impact on the campus dynamic is significant.
Janitor Venus Valera said, “‘Sometimes the students give you a Christmas card of a little present or a little mug. Last year, they gave us all Starbucks gift cards.’”
According to an interview printed in The Miscellany News, “Students often come up to Valera and Jimenez and say thank you.
“Jimenez said, ‘In the fifteen years I’ve worked here, I’ve never had a problem with a student. When the students see you do your job, they respond to you very well. When I was working in Main, the guys were very nice and helped sometimes,” (“Janitors give voice to otherwise silent roles on campus,” The Miscellany News, 05.6.15).
That way, we can depend on them whenever a problem regarding sanitation or maintenance arises and the custodial staff would be more than willing to help. It is much better for the custodial staff to know that we care than for them than to feel bitter and spiteful of our blatant obliviousness of their efforts.
In addition, one problem is that the custodians are almost invisible to us. We rarely see them in our busy day and thanks to the perpetual state of cleanliness of our school, we almost never think about them and their contributions to Vassar.
Obviously, it’s definitely not a bad thing that they’re doing their jobs so well, but we should never forget how important they are to our school and to always appreciate their work.
While they might appear to just be janitors hired to clean the school, several of them are actually students at Vassar just like us.
They too are making the most of their time here by attending classes and receiving an education. Whether you know it or not, these custodians are part of the Vassar community like the students and the faculty. We should strive to celebrate them and make them aware that we appreciate their efforts. They do a lot for us and they deserve to be acknowledged.
So, the next time you walk by a janitor in your dorm, make sure to smile and thank them for what they are doing. Even just a simple “thank you” will let them know that they are not invisible.