It’s funny to think about how much people can learn about us from our bathroom and eating habits. Though primal and simplistic necessities, they reflect certain ingrained societal expectations. And the people who often witness these habits the most are the staff members who work here at Mount Holyoke (or any other college). They witness our eating and grooming habits every day without judgement.
Before many of us wake up, the housekeepers are cleaning our dorms. Before breakfast starts and long after dinner ends, the kitchen staff is cooking our meals and cleaning up afterward. It is not uncommon for me to shuffle into the bathroom at 7:30 a.m. bedraggled and far from bushy tailed only to have the housekeeper greet me with a smile. I have witnessed the kitchen staff’s patience when faced with spills or the winding lines that always accompany Dessert Dilemma. The staff who work to keep Mount Holyoke clean, safe, and functional are often here every day, working alongside of us, yet we as a community are ignoring their work and failing to show them the respect they are due.
I cannot emphasize this enough: The non-faculty staff on campus are people. They are human beings with feelings and lives outside of Mount Holyoke that do not revolve around us and our desires. Despite the fact that their jobs involve feeding and cleaning up after us, there are limits to what they can be expected to do and endure. I believe that we students are pushing those limits.
I am talking about leaving our shared spaces in dorms a mess or staying long after dinner has ended in dining halls. I am talking about actions that are tacitly negating the humanity of the people who are taking care of us and our living spaces. Our youth is not an excuse for our behavior; we are all old enough to understand our roles as community members. Walking into the kitchens or laundry rooms in the dorms, I often wonder if people are so messy and gross here because someone followed them around at home and as a result aren’t used to the adjustment of having to care for themselves. Or is it that now that we are no longer under the watchful eyes of our guardians we go wild with freedom?
Is entitlement or laziness our problem? If not, then what is?
I know one thing: living in a messy environment isn’t really fun for anyone. Who wants to cook in a kitchenette where every surface is covered with greasy pizza boxes? Who wants to shower in a bathroom shrouded in toilet paper and various abandoned personal products? And who really wants to clean that up?
Despite how troubling I think these situations are, the housekeeping staff are unwavering in their care for us, our dorms, and our facilities. Monday through Friday, professional housekeepers and some students employed by the college go floor by floor and clean our bathrooms, kitchenettes, and common spaces. This is no small feat.
After reaching out to one of the housekeepers, I was touched to learn how much they care about us and our goals. When I see a messy bathroom my first impulse is to feel angry and frustrated. In comparison, when a housekeeper sees a messy bathroom or begins to notice troubling patterns while she cleans, she feels concern for the students living in the dorm. The housekeepers know a lot, they learn our habits and see us before our armor goes on for the day ahead. They are here when we are too tired, or sad, or frustrated to offer any pretense. They acknowledge that we are transitioning into adulthood and have plenty of messy slip ups along the way, and they believe that it is better for us to figure things out in the safety of college before we graduate and are forced to navigate the world without as much support. Some of the students here end up becoming close friends with the staff, and those bonds remain after those students graduate. The non-faculty staff are valuable members of our Mount Holyoke family; they are as important and necessary as our professors and the deans . They treat us with patience and respect and they truly care.
My question for the Mount Holyoke community is how can we live up to the gift of respect and care that we are given daily? I think that the answer can be relatively simple.
We are exceedingly privileged to be here, to be able to focus on our education and to learn about others and how we all fit together, in a space catered to us and our learning. We are taught to be aware of the world around us in class and are perfectly willing to point out a lack of awareness when it arises in conversations or when the administration is being particularly heedless, yet we do not take the time to register moments when we are being inconsiderate during our daily routines. If you are in a dining hall and it’s already 7:15 at night and you still have your dishes out, think about the effect you are having on the kitchen staff. Cleaning up a dining hall takes time and you can do your part by moving your conversation to the common room. If the garbage bins are overflowing in your kitchenette, don’t leave your trash on the counter and hope for the best. Bring it to another trash can, or if you’re feeling particularly charitable, empty the full bin and replace the garbage bag. I am sure everyone on your floor will appreciate it when their rooms don’t smell like warm garbage. I could probably go on for pages about the little things that we all can do to maintain a clean, safe community. Whether it is taking your hair out of the shower drain or exerting the effort that it takes to walk your used cup up to the kitchen window, the acts add up.
We are all at Mount Holyoke for a reason, and we all have something to offer. But we are also here because we are capable of living among a community as autonomous beings. We are beings who can pick up after ourselves and take care of our living spaces. It is not fair or acceptable to expect the staff to put themselves in danger while handling our bodily fluids (please throw out your own pads and tampons!) or to conform to our arbitrary schedules in the dining halls. They are people with emotions and limitations and we should treat them as such. They have been affording us respect without judgment despite our actions.
I have heard students here express dismay at outside proclamations that Mount Holyoke is a “bubble”, full of students unprepared for the real world. This is a perfect chance to prove those people wrong. Let’s prove that we can treat our living spaces and other people, especially the ones who clean up after us, with respect and maturity.
Photo courtesy of the Wistariahurst Museum in Holyoke, MA