Service workers at UMass should be treated better

UMass staff deserve dignity and respect


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Emma Garber, Collegian Columnist

It was like any other Saturday night in Franklin Dining Commons: The place was packed with the usual crowd of students filling their stomachs with sushi and stir-fry, the room abuzz with chatter about approaching exams and weekend plans. A sudden crash rang out when a group of men accidentally dropped their plates as they began to finish up their meal. The room erupted in the usual sarcastic applause, and the men hung their heads in shame. “I’m leaving,” one of them said, and they all briskly walked away, abandoning the scene of the crime. Left on the table were the remnants of their meal: broken glass, spilled pasta sauce, bits of food and forgotten dishware. Within a matter of seconds, a Frank employee arrived, ready to clean up the filth the men left behind. My friends and I looked away, too embarrassed on behalf of our fellow students’ lack of respect to watch as the employee swept the mess away. Although there are rules in the dining halls against students cleaning up broken dishes, the students’ display of entitlement – this mindset that someone else would obviously come to clean up their mess – was nevertheless disappointing. Even more disappointing is the realization that this entitlement is not unique to this one group of men.

Across campus, there seems to be a general lack of respect, as if we have all forgotten just how privileged we are. Our attitude toward service workers is embarrassing, especially for a campus that is supposedly welcoming to all. We shove our student ID cards at the workers checking us into the dining hall or dorm without a greeting or a “thank you.” When a dining hall employee is ready to serve us food, we silently point at what we want, not acknowledging their help. The same goes for maintenance staff in dorms. The other day as I was returning to my dorm room, the woman who cleans the hall was mopping the floor. A group of women trekked through her mopping, never once acknowledging her presence. Bathrooms are often left in chaos, with toilet paper on the floor and water spilled everywhere. On the bus, we rarely say thanks or greet our bus drivers. At any place on campus, the staff working there is probably not getting the respect they deserve.

Hanging all over campus are the words “dignity and respect.” As a part of the University of Massachusetts’ new “Building a Community of Dignity and Respect” campaign, the administration has reaffirmed its efforts to ensure “a safe and welcoming living-learning-working environment for every member of our community,” and to create “an environment that is respectful and inclusive for all.” Dignity and respect are not complicated concepts to understand. As students, we are quick to defend each other. When acts of hate occur or the price of tuition increases, we stand up for each other, as we should. Yet when it is time to defend those who are working some of the most demanding, tireless jobs on campus, we fail to do so.

We need to remember that staff members across campus are also vital members of our community. Many of them are students who balance classwork and exams in addition to their work duties. For some employees, English is not their primary language. Many work long shifts every day, some maintenance staff waking up at the crack of dawn to begin cleaning. Regardless of their age, race or gender, employees across campus are all entitled to dignity and respect. They work all day to make our college experience better, why can’t we work to make their days a little better?

This is not to say that every single student is rude to our service workers. I see plenty of people saying “please” and “thank you.” However, as a community we can all try to be more mindful of our manners. Thank your bus driver when you get off the shuttle. Ask the security guard in your dorm lobby how their night is going. Clean up after yourself in the dining halls. Take the time to let workers across campus know they are valued.

Emma Garber is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]