Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cleaning Up the Way We Treat Our Custodial Staff

Mina is a Pilipina woman in her mid-sixties who every day wears a clean black bob and a heart-melting smile. In true pilipino fashion, she can't pronounce her f's and speaks pondly op her pamily in a boice that can only be described "peppy." Mina reminds me a bit of my own lola, or grandma. There was no helping I'd like her from the start.

Mina is a former custodian at Toyon Hall, an all-sophomore dorm of roughly 200 residents on east campus. On the 6th of June she retired, concluding many years of service to the Stanford community.

Toyon Hall

As a dorm custodian Mina had many responsibilities, including but not limited to maintaining the romanesque courtyard, vacuuming the halls, and cleaning the bathrooms 
speckless. She was always toiling down the halls with a smile on her face, and because of it we lived in our Spanish-roofed villa for eight happy, spotless months.

Mina is more than her responsibilities though. She is a woman who braved the challenges of immigration and assimilation into American culture. She is a tireless, gentle soul who mothered us here at Stanford all while providing financial security to her children back home in the Philippines. She's the lola away from home.

And while Mina may have been Toyon's caretaker, there are some things that should not have become her responsibility this past year.

Yes, I'm talking about that gut-churningly foul, vein-poppingly infuriating phenomenon that even some Stanford students--those chosen few whose abilities to found companies, break athletic records and exhale eloquence transcended the towering hurdle that is Admissions--cannot seem to trump: the absentee toilet flush.

Don't. Don't even get me started, man. It's such a crappy thing to do, literally. Just brace yourselves kids, your ears may pop at the speed my tone escalates from the sentimental for ire.

I have a dream someday this will be unnecessary

Who on this sacred earth after finishing their business in a restroom--a public one no less--just gets up and leaves? Whose ego is possibly huge enough to think their filth should be left behind for the next person to walk in on and ponder like abstract art? Like 8 AM classes or Furbies, why is this even a thing? Did you undergo amnesia for five seconds? When you were eight years old did a tornado ram your house right as you were flushing and now you can't turn the 180 degrees to face the metal pole without fear gripping your entire being? No? Then why, for the love of all that is sanitary, WHY.

There are deep questions of the Universe that will ceaselessly balk the human mind, and this one seems to be mine. Regardless of philosophy, one truth remains: it's not the custodial staff's responsibility to flush after you.

Neither is it the dining staff's responsibility to clean up the food-caked plates carelessly left on tables after lunchtime or the landscapers' responsibility to pick up the red solo cups carelessly strewn across lawns like casualties of rager. Carelessness is the motif here, and because of it responsibilities are all too often shirked to R&DE staff, including Mina. 

If my anger of a thousand white hot suns wasn't loud enough, it really grinds my gears. More than that, it gets me wondering: are some of us so careless because we are comfortable in the fact that someone will take care of us? Do some of us actually believe it's someone else's responsibility to take care of us?

Tell it, Tyra

At Stanford we are cared for nearly completely. We have custodians to clean up after us, we have dining halls to prepare great food for us, and we even have landscapers to prune our palm trees every month. Lest eking out existence in the godforsaken land that is Rains, we are basically children suckling at R&DE's teat. I'm sorry for the metaphor, as I'm sorry for disregarding the fact these services come at a high price, but I hold unapologetically that with these services comes some carelessness, even condescension, for the people who perform them.

A student who worked in the dining hall for a day wrote an excellent post expressing his disappointment in his classmates for treating the staff as invisible, even garbage. And ashamed to say, I've witnessed firsthand some classmates treat staff members rather curtly. 

But I'm no innocent either. I've walked past plates left on tables, past trash on the lawns, and instead of picking it up thought, "'s the janitor's job." I'd deemed it was someone else's responsibility to pay for our carelessness. Even worse, I'd dehumanized a feeling, breathing custodian into a service.

It doesn't even make sense that I'd think this way, especially since I was raised with a bloodline to and respect for the disadvantaged. My mother came to America as a refugee when she was 12 with not a lick of English and faced discrimination as she juggled raising her five siblings, working, and going to school for the rest of her childhood. Sometimes I can't even open a jar of marinara.

Aww yiss (Wilbur dining)

I've grown to care a lot more this past year, and it's because of Mina, my mom and dad, and the other hard workers in my life. Visibility and open dialog with the people who provide us our charmed life is absolutely crucial for humanizing their services, for appreciating the journeys they've led, and for preventing the carelessness that often declines into condescension.

Moral of the story? Remember that behind the clean dorms, the hot food and the manicured lawns are human beings who are trying to improve their life in the same way we are by attending Stanford. 

And flush the damn toilet.