Twelve Bowdoin housekeepers wrote an op-ed this week detailing the realities of the work they do to clean Bowdoin’s spaces. The letter paints a picture of Bowdoin as an employer that is, frankly, shameful.
The College presents itself as an institution guided by the principles of the Common Good. Thus, people tend to expect—incorrectly—that Bowdoin housekeeping staff are compensated fairly.
As Bowdoin students, it embarrasses us to imagine the scenario described in the op-ed: a housekeeper had to explain the harsh reality of their life as a Bowdoin employee to someone who assumed that they were well-paid. This is not the portrait of Bowdoin that the College projects, either to the outside world or to students.
But we are watching now.
It is true; many students on this campus do come from a position of privilege (about half of current students pay the full sticker price of $70,000 a year). Even students on financial aid benefit from the abundant resources of this College. But privilege should not excuse indifference. When courageous people, such as these housekeepers, bring attention to problems that the College would rather sweep under the rug, our community can begin to engage in these conversations.
Though organizations such as the Bowdoin Labor Alliance can be powerful instruments of change, the first-hand accounts provided by housekeepers are exponentially more powerful. We appreciate that it is significantly more difficult for those members of our community to speak out, and we admire those who have done so. We also firmly believe that they should not have had to.
Our position as students working on a college newspaper lends us significant insulation from consequences which others might face. Unlike Visiting Assistant Professor of German Professor Andrew Hamilton, the author of a September 20 op-ed questioning the principles of Bowdoin’s leadership, we don’t have to worry about jeopardizing the future of our professional careers.
A piece by Radu Stochita ’22 in this issue’s opinion section calls on us to bite the hand that feeds us, regardless of the power (or lack thereof) we hold on this campus. Hamilton’s op-ed and this week’s statement from the housekeepers are courageous examples of community members doing just that.
Some people here are in positions of power—among them, alumni, professors with tenure and students who don’t receive financial aid. Others, however, are in positions of vulnerability. They include students on financial aid, untenured professors and support staff members.
We hope you keep talking. We are listening to you, and we hope the administration is as well.
The College is apprehensive about critical messages, especially during Homecoming Weekend because these messages tarnish the squeaky-clean image the College promotes. Alumni returning to campus ought to be shocked and appalled. They ought to act on that. To Bowdoin’s housekeepers: we support your fearless efforts to better this institution and hold accountable those who disgrace it.
This editorial represents the majority view of the Bowdoin Orient’s editorial board, which is composed of Emily Cohen, Brianna Cunliffe, Roither Gonzales, Rohini Kurup, Alyce McFadden, Nina McKay, Danielle Quezada, Reuben Schafir and Jaret Skonieczny.
Editor’s Note, 10/7/19: Matt Orlando, senior vice president for finance and administration and treasurer of the College, responded to claims made in this piece.