We Must Respect Our Public Spaces

It is almost a common occurrence to get an email from your resident assistant or area coordinator requesting residents to help maintain a healthy and clean living environment. It is so common that one would think the requests would stick. One would think.

It is easy to think of the Environmental (EVS) and Dining Services workers as constants at Swarthmore. However, it is important to highlight their importance to the campus as a whole, a contribution that is often taken for granted. Without their work, we would have no order in dining areas, and our living areas would be in a constant state of disorder. How is it, then, considering their integral nature to the basic functionality of this campus, that students forget to treat them as people, ignoring them and expecting them to be there to clean up after them and serve them?

It is understandable that people have occasional bad days, and when you take into consideration the average workload and stressors on Swatties, having a bad day is not uncommon. However, these excuses do not permit blatant disregard and disrespect to those around you, whether that be students, faculty, or staff. A simple “Hello” goes a long way, and although you do not have to tell your entire life story to someone, it is important to acknowledge those around you — especially those who are cleaning your dorms and providing you with food.

Yes, EVS and Dining Services have the responsibility to maintain a clean and healthy campus and provide a good living experience for the community. However, there is a difference between maintaining a clean environment and cleaning up messes left behind by inconsiderate students. There is a difference between sweeping the floor of small crumbs and getting on your knees to pick up a full taco that fell from a student’s plate and was left there. There is a difference between spraying down the tables and having to clear dishes and disinfect the tables because of food and liquids left on them. There is a difference between cleaning the bathrooms and having to clean Saturday night’s vomit from the bathroom sinks on a Monday morning. Maintaining a clean environment is not the same as cleaning up after the student body. 

Small acts, like sweeping any crumbs onto your plate when you leave, putting back extra chairs you brought to your table to their original place, or making sure you don’t leave any trash behind on the table, go a long way in helping Dining Service workers keep Sharples clean. Wiping down the sink of excess water, taking your hair out of the shower, not leaving an excess of toilet paper in the stalls, and generally cleaning up after yourself like any decent human being would in bathrooms and dorms help EVS workers also maintain their environments. Not only do these acts help the staff, but they also help other students live in clean environments. Who would want to sit at a dirty table or use a dirty bathroom? By leaving public spaces a mess, you are putting the effort of cleaning up on those around you, effectively pushing the work onto people that were not the cause of the mess.

It seems contradictory to live on a campus where people publicly advocate for higher recognition for the staff, but disrespect and disregard their work in private. It should not be a controversial statement to tell people to be kind to the workers who work to maintain a clean and healthy environment for students to live in. It should not be a statement people should be making to adults. 

As a campus, we must do better. We are incredibly lucky to have a staff that works hard to maintain the space we call home. Treat them as people, rather than those that will always be there to clean up after you. Clean up after yourself. Say “Hi.” Do better.

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