Last Friday I woke up at 6:30 a.m. I like to make my breakfast before I catch the train to Philly for my student teaching placement. When I groggily traipsed into the Danawell kitchen where I keep my smoothie ingredients and blender, I walked into what appeared to be the scene of a middle school food fight. Food scraps, napkins, paper plates, and red Solo cups were strewn about the communal space, and sticky liquids had dried in a stream dripping down the counters onto the floor. Disgusted, I stepped gingerly around the floor, careful not to slip on the puddles of god-knows-what moist gunk. I didn’t have to get my blender out of the drawer because it was already out and used by a stranger who didn’t ask permission and didn’t wash it when they were done. This is what I wake up to at least three times a week, and I have encountered similar instances throughout my three-and-a-half-years at Swarthmore.
As enraged as the abuse of common space and utter disregard for fellow students makes me, this is not half as bad as what EVS must tolerate. It’s time that more people begin to call out peers for this intolerable disrespect. I am not the first to raise this issue in our community, and I hope I will not be the last. There are three issues I see with students leaving messes for EVS to clean up.
- The disrespect and utter disregard for EVS workers and other students resulting from a lack of empathy (you can argue for laziness, but when it affects others, it’s just selfish).
- The entitlement and immaturity these acts communicate. It’s okay to be immature, but it’s not acceptable to act it out.
- This is a racialized, classist, and sexist issue.
1) The EVS page on the Swarthmore website states, “The Environmental Services staff is dedicated to keeping campus facilities well managed in support of students, faculty, staff, and visitors,” not “dedicated to cleaning up after careless students who make a mess and expect someone else to clean it up.” If you cook something in a communal kitchen or party in a communal space, consider the people who have as much right to the space as you, who will inhabit or use it next, and respect those in our community who do so much and get so little appreciation, such as the marvelous EVS staff.
We live in a community. If you lived alone, you would be welcome to leave your crusty pots in the sink for years, and no one would care. However, we all elected to be a part of this special community and the reality is that most spaces on campus are shared spaces, so we should do our share and clean up. Didn’t anyone listen to Barney when they were younger? What about the Golden Rule? Treat others how you want to be treated? This is the definition of empathy. This is what we teach our children—why I teach.
Libertarians would have us believe that individuals in society are free agents. But belonging to a society means that you relinquish some of your freedom in exchange for the benefits of belonging. People need roads and bridges to get to work and pay taxes to maintain them. We like order and leadership, so we consign our voices to our elected representatives, however corrupt and dysfunctional this system may be. If society as a whole operated the way students at Swarthmore act, it would be detrimental to everyone! Aloof intellectuals may sip wine and diagnose, “This cannot be helped, it is the tragedy of the commons,” but just because it’s a social trend doesn’t mean we have to acquiesce to it. Swarthmore, we can do better.
Learning social responsibility is part of growing up. You can’t do whatever you want with no consequences. This is no longer high school where we live at home and someone takes care of us. This is college and we are responsible for ourselves. Growing up is intimidating, but you cannot act out by disrespecting and harming others.
2) The entitlement communicated by these selfish acts represents a complete lack of regard for others and the privilege not to care about them. The privilege an individual must possess in order to disregard the reality that your actions impact others indicates a profound disconnect from the people doing the labor of cleaning. Would you like to be the person who has to dig soggy pasta out of the drain of the sink in Parrish? In her book “Why Grow Up,” Susan Neiman explains the process of growing up as “reconciling the way you want the world to be with the way the world is.” It would be nice if we didn’t have to clean up after ourselves, but that is childhood. And if you are saying to yourself, “But I was going to wash my plates in the sink, I just had to finish my paper then I was gonna come back!” I would call BS.
3) This is a racialized, classist, sexist issue. Women, most often women of color, and poor people are always cleaning up the messes of more privileged people (but I’m also not saying you have to be privileged to be an asshole). The majority of EVS staff are African American men and women. The EVS workers who clean the dorms and communal spaces are frequently women. I don’t know what an EVS salary looks like at Swarthmore, but when my mother was a house cleaner in L.A., she told me she made shit wages and from talking to the janitorial staff at my high school I know they did too.
African Americans, especially Black women, have historically been pegged as domestic workers and caretakers and have never been respected for this challenging and compassionate labor. It’s time the culture that devalues this invaluable labor stops. I challenge any individual who went to Jungle Party this past weekend to try and do what EVS does every day. I highly recommend reading the opinion piece published in the Huffington Post titled “Do We Care For The Black Women Who Care For Us?”by Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, about women of color who care for us, specifically in the care industry, but many of the same themes apply. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/alicia-garza/do-we-care-for-black-women_b_9272422.html )
In conclusion, get your head out of your ass, and wake up and smell your own garbage. Being an adult isn’t so bad, and no one expects college students to be grown-ups (I am certainly not yet one). The college takes care of us as we figure out what adulthood means, and part of our job is to try to be decent human beings to each other. This is a small community—talk to people who are different from you! Get to know them, and forge connections that may make you uncomfortable initially. One might even argue that human connection across differing social groups would solve some very important problems in our nation, and it’s not the job of the people doing all the labor to start the conversation.