As I pulled an all-nighter in the Rafic B. Hariri Building last week, in the early hours of the morning, I was soothed by the sounds of vacuum cleaners from two janitors working to ready a learning environment for the next day. As busy college students, we are so wrapped up in our everyday routines that we forget to thank those who enhance our college experience, often without our noticing.
Most people prize professors as the most important faculty members on campus, as they have a direct effect on the academic experience of a college student. This perception is almost involuntary: Since kindergarten, we have been taught to value our teachers because our interactions with them are the most frequent, deliberate and direct.
However, the college experience does not rely solely on our academic journeys. Our experiences are composed of the college’s social life, our daily use of facilities, our dining hall experience and other interactions, direct or indirect, with multiple staff members. Students have forgotten to acknowledge the very vital role that other faculty members, who have faded in the background, have contributed to the ease of our college experience and daily routines.
These service workers and employees have made it their duty to ensure that our facilities, dining hall experiences and other often overlooked aspects of our college experience are running smoothly. When students and faculty are not present, these behind-the-scenes workers clean the university study spaces, libraries, bathrooms, equipment and cafeterias.
At campuses across the country, service workers work shifts at every hour of the day to keep the buildings clean. Unfortunately, the contribution of these workers is easily forgotten. Because these workers are not working in traditionally espoused positions, like the professors in universities, they are often not included in the narrative of a successful and meaningful college experience even though they have an important role to play in that narrative.
In response to this, Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) created Unsung Heroes to celebrate “the workers on college campuses who work hard and keep the university running behind the scenes but often go unrecognized and unappreciated.” An organization like Unsung Heroes is vital in reaffirming the humanity of these workers and showing their efforts are indeed essential to the experience of a college student.
As students, our job is to practice the principle at the center of organizations like Unsung Heroes: the acknowledgement of our very own campus’ unsung heroes. When you see janitors or cooks in Leo O’Donovan’s Hall, a simple smile, wave and even a “hello” serve as your acknowledgement of not only their presence, but also of their humanity.
It is a way of creating a rapport that will make our interaction with campus workers just as frequent, deliberate and direct as our interactions with our professors. It is important for these workers to understand that they too have an immense impact on the experience of college students — because, in fact, they do. By acknowledging their presence, we affirm and pay our respects to their own personal narratives — and ultimately, that is empowerment.
Anu Osibajo and Isatou Bah are freshmen in the College. Fireside Chats appears every other Tuesday.