Often overlooked and perennially unappreciated, the unsung heroes of any college of university campus are absent figures. They are absent from discussions of what the best school is, from discussions surrounding the beauty and the atmosphere of a campus environment, and often absent from high-profile awards ceremonies as well as campus strikes.
I’m referring to the custodial, food service, and maintenance staff that secretly provides each and every college campus with the true opportunity to grow. Heck, if it weren’t for these three sectors of people the physical institution wouldn’t exist in the first place; you’d be taking classes online and have to thank an entirely different (but equally invisible) network of IT professionals that serve up the infrastructure you learn within.
What’s the big deal? I don’t even like the food at dining hall!
Time after time, year after year strings of complaints come in from students who are unaccustomed to receiving meals which may or may not have been grass-fed, organic, and accompanied by a set of extended silverware. The food can range from bad to excellent, though there’s no doubt that it beats a diet of discount ramen and canned corn. You always have the option of cooking for yourself!
The people behind the counter work in hot kitchens over hotter food for very little gratitude and very little pay. An increase in both would be a good start towards showing cafeteria and dining hall staff the respect they truly deserve, but neither seem to be in the cards given a late capitalist economy and a devaluation of respect for non-professional workers.
So what can you do? Take the time to thank your server for their help and their effort. Go out of your way to start up a conversation if you’re in the mood and it looks like they are too. It doesn’t matter if your sloppy joe isn’t as sloppy as you might like today; make the effort and most people will make the effort as well.
Oh yeah? Who cares about those janitors and maintenance workers anyways? I pick up after myself.
That’s great! Everyone over the age of five should have mastered that skill by now — we expect something a little more from newly minted adults. The fact is that most people do not clean up after themselves — after all, “that’s someone else’s job”.
You’re right. It is. The janitor or custodian has to do that. He or she is a person just like you. Just like you, they have to bend down, over, and under to clean. They don’t get roombas. After a few years of doing just that for eight hours a day, let me know how good your back feels, and how good your joints are.
Maintenance workers get the same short shrift — and it’s not limited to students. Lofty professors and bankrolled administrators have an equally short fuse when it comes to work orders and dealing with the blue collar folks who come to make things “work” for them. IT workers may get a little more respect as they are technical magicians who produce the magical “internet” which is like an addictive drug to students, professors, and admins alike.
Maintenance workers don’t have the same essential shield. If something breaks, it better be fixed NOW. Not as “homework” or “after your sabbatical”, but immediately. A work order is just that; an order. Try ordering a tenured professor sometime. The same respect should, in an ideal and ethical world, be afforded to the men and women who fit the pipes, fix the doors, floors, and windows.
The bottom line is basic respect
Think about it: These are the folks on campus that work the longest hours for the least pay. In and of itself, that’s worthy of due respect. They are the most likely to work up a sweat in a day’s work and the least likely to complain about minutia.
They serve you steak on steak day. They fix your interwebs. They keep the air conditioning on. They sweep and mop the floor beneath your feet, pick up your physical garbage and often take your verbal garbage.
If not a medal, then at least a blog post in their honor from all of us at ValoreBooks.
Here’s to all of the unsung heroes on college campuses across the world.