Throughout the semester, I have had the privilege of getting to know a member of the Facilities Services staff, who will be referred to using the pronoun “she.” Our relationship developed gradually thanks to routine. She works the graveyard shift of cleaning my go-to nightly study spot. She demonstrated such candor and was so outgoing that a light chat with me as she tidied up around my desk seemed nothing short of natural for her.
After about two weeks of this dynamic, we then exchanged names and got a little deeper. I found out she has two daughters, one who is my age and attends college on a similar career track to me. We learned about each other’s hometowns and parents, and we are now even Facebook friends! I attribute this relationship solely to her outgoing nature. She reaches out to every student in a cubical to which she is assigned to clean. She gives a, “How’s it going?” to everyone who walks by her. It was not difficult in the slightest to establish a genuine connection with her.
As our talks became longer and our stories more personal, I couldn’t help but inquire about how she finds her job. I must preface the remainder of my piece by mentioning that she clearly told me that she is not attempting to complain. While the work is not exactly dream-worthy, she takes its purpose seriously. That is, ensuring that all of us have a comfortable, tidy environment in which to work is of great value to her. She mentions this almost every evening. I also must emphasize that I, myself, have likely perpetrated any of the actions or attitudes described.
So what did she tell me? I learned of a sentiment or belief amongst the custodial staff that they should accept the students’ devaluing and ignoring their presence. This is just “how it goes” at BC, and “what can you do?” It is also the case that the staff is taken to be the “clean-up crew” who can take care of the crackers one doesn’t finish or flush and clean a dirty toilet.
Perhaps we are misinterpreting the true role of Facilities Services, which is to bring our environment back to a clean and safe one as it naturally shifts from this. That is, desks and chairs will need to be dusted, floors will need to be vacuumed, and snow will need to be shoveled. Each BC community member has the “basic duty” to keep shared campus space clean after use. The question of privilege, therefore, begins to present itself. Are we adopting the mindset that, because of the hefty tuition “which pays the salary of Facilities Staff,” they should be the clean-up crew? Or does this point to some greater divide in how we have been conditioned to view the “lower classes” of society? In any case, there is a demographic in our community who is made to feel “less than” the majority.
While this in and of itself is enough to cause concern, these staff members are extremely vital to our success. Imagine the Gasson Quad without nice grass, the Gothic buildings with chipping decoration or Bapst Library covered in crumbs. Think about a Stokes room with stained chairs and broken projectors. Over time, we would become dysfunctional. More practically, our infrastructure would fall apart, and there would be no Boston College!
One of the most challenging aspects of a rigorous college schedule can be “descending” from the worries and priorities of our “student world.” Most of our lives become parameterized by grades, measured by attainment of a job, and occupied by the stress of exams. The experiences of the more “blue-collar” ones among us become distant, and we seem to lose our sense of care for their well-being. It is time for us to acknowledge the impact each and every human brings to our lives here and to remember these folks, even when it is difficult to escape one’s own bubble.