The people who work for Bowdoin housekeeping deserve more from Bowdoin, full stop. This is not, and frankly has never been, a controversial statement. It is not a premise around which the terms of discussion should be centered. They deserve the right training, equipment and certifications to handle human blood and other waste and infestations. They deserve to be compensated for using personal vehicles to bring their equipment around campus. They deserve better wage increases if they take on more responsibilities and work for Bowdoin for a long period of time.
But they also deserve more from us, the students. Housekeepers deserve better than to have to clean up after students who vomit in elevators, hallways and public showers, leave mugs from the dining hall in random corners of buildings, pee where they are not supposed to or move out of dorm rooms buried in trash and food waste. Whether we believe such responsibilities are a part of their written or implied duties, we should nevertheless agree they are an affront to human dignity. Such behaviors are glaringly contrary to how we think of ourselves in the daytime, in our classrooms and on our resumes.
I will, of course, admit to leaving rooms imperfect and that I didn’t exactly spend my time at Bowdoin policing the campus on behalf of cleanliness. I didn’t nag my roommates to clear out their trash at the end of the year when moving out. Like many of us, I’ve often wished to do more for our housekeepers and other support staff but failed to do so. But this isn’t a question of moral purity, and we shouldn’t judge the value of a message based on the behavior of the messenger. Still, I have never defecated in a hallway nor broken glass and dangerously left it for someone else to step on. This happens far too often to be excused on campus. Once is too often to be excused on our campus.
Some of the behaviors we can change are basic: think about how you affect spaces on campus before you leave. Students create the majority of work for housekeepers, sometimes out of necessity, but often through negligence and laziness. Take a few minutes to clean up before leaving a room. Properly dispose of trash, food waste or bodily fluids. It can make a substantial difference in our housekeepers’ long days or nights. What we can convince the College they ought to do remains to be seen, but each of us today can do little things to reduce the extent of their work, especially the most unpleasant tasks. Greeting Connie in Thorne or chatting with Bowdoin Security while drunk isn’t the same thing as treating Bowdoin staff well. Taking care of the spaces on campus that the housekeepers are in charge of cleaning is within our control, and keeping it clean is something everyone can do.
I respect the work current Bowdoin students have done to bring the issues of wages and Bowdoin human resources to light, but I do not believe this should be left out of the conversation. Nor do I think that questioning our behavior and norms is incompatible with or detrimental to the cause of justice for housekeepers. Indeed, if we demand that Bowdoin College treat its workers with the dignity they deserve, it only follows that we should concurrently call upon each other to do the same. Students must be accountable for the damage they inflict and the work they create, not just during Ivies or on weekends, but any day throughout the year. And we do that by policing ourselves.
Otherwise, we’re merely fighting for the right of housekeeping to clean up after us.
Nicole Feleo was a member of the Class of 2018.