A sincere thank you for those who clean up after our messes and keep the school looking clean.
Last quarter, the storms hit La Jolla pretty hard. Our campus is no stranger to the pouring rains and the flooded foothills they cause. Those of us who decided to go to class despite the dreaded rain saw the mess. Leaves littered the ground and branches fell by Library Walk. Mud poured out onto the walkways and sandbags were put up to prevent water from flooding the buildings.
However, soon after, the grounds were cleaned of litter, and the mud stains were washed away. The leaves that had clunked up the gutters and drains were no longer there. There was a woman raking the leaves aside, wearing a light blue shirt that could only belong to the custodial staff at UC San Diego.
The custodial staff at UCSD is organized under different departments. The custodial and maintenance staff that are in charge of the dining halls and residential areas are part of a division called Building and Custodial Services under the Housing Dining Hospitality department. Meanwhile, there is another group of custodial staff who are under the school’s Facilities Management department. The staff under the Facilities Management department are in charge of cleaning and maintaining public facilities and buildings, such as lecture halls, laboratories, hallways, stairwells, public restrooms, computer labs, and study rooms. However, this does not include sports facilities and public spaces such as Price Center. The custodial services provided for those facilities are under a separate department.
Our campus stays clean because there are staff who work hard to keep it clean. A typical day of a custodial staff who maintains the campus facilities may involve sanitizing bathrooms and keeping supplies in check, removing trash and recycling, sweeping and mopping floors, as well as wiping down the chalkboards in classrooms at the end of each day. Staff who work in residential areas clean common areas such as the dining room, living room, and bathrooms weekly. Custodial staff also provide students with vacuuming services, surface cleaning and sanitation for sinks, bathrooms, oventops, and countertops. Despite their hard work, the staff are underappreciated and little is known about their jobs.
In 2012, Nancy Madrid, a UCSD alumna, wrote a thesis on low-wage immigrant workers. The thesis, titled “What keeps us here is the love we have for our students: Solidarity among low wage immigrant workers and students at the University of California, San Diego,” was later published in a reader used by Thurgood Marshall College’s writing program, Dimensions of Culture. The third part of this writing program is called “Imagination” and focuses on “inequality and the lack of opportunity of various groups.” Nancy’s thesis focuses on the issues of low-wage immigrant workers. Her thesis states this about custodial services: “Although there is very little to be gained financially or intellectually, this industry remains in high demand considering the need for cleanliness will never end.”
This thesis also brings attention to the “invisibility” that may come along with this occupation in certain cases or environments as Nancy explains the “tendency for individuals to ignore cleaners in public spaces, as their job is solely to clean and not necessarily to be integrated into the environment.” While students can interact with their professors and teaching assistants with such programs such as Coffee with a Prof or Lunch with a Prof, no such programs exist for students or staff to interact and get to know the people who are helping them clean the spaces that they live and work in. Most requests for services are done online or through phone and there is a disconnect between the two parties.
Earl Warren College freshman Sydney echoes how some students may feel about initiating conversation with the custodial staff. She said, “I think the custodial staff who comes every week are very nice people. However, when I’m out on campus, I don’t really interact with them. It depends. I don’t want to bother them from doing their job, but also there is this class divide that I want to be conscious about, and sometimes, I may be rushing out or just not have the energy to do so.”
However, for students who live on campus, some of them get to really know and appreciate the staff that comes to their apartments for weekly maintenance, and some make meaningful connections with the staff.
Emily Levin-Rosenshine, a sophomore from Thurgood Marshall college, appreciates the concerns that the custodial staff has for the students, which helped build their trusting relationship. The staff who cleaned her apartment noticed that paint was chipping off of the hood over her stove and had warned her about it. Emily had given the staff a Thank You card for the New Years holiday.
Custodial staff who work in residential areas clean about “six apartments per day” and often get to interact and “connect with students fairly well, since they’re in the [student’s] living space daily,” says Custodial Services Administrator Ana Rodriguez.
The 160 employees who work there also have access to a series of activities that the university offers, including English as a second language, fitness classes and diabetes awareness classes. The classes are meant to aid employees in their communication skills, health and awareness, as well as their career advancement. Ana says that these opportunities, as well as support from her supervisors and directors, has helped her grow into the position of Custodial Services Administrator after being a senior custodian for 14 years.
The amount of foot traffic that goes on at a school this big means that some places need to be cleaned regularly in order to avoid junk build-up and to keep things such as drains and ventilation in working order. The school’s ongoing construction projects mean that there will be more facilities that require these custodial services, which means either more people need to be hired to maintain them or the staff will have to take on more duties. The importance of the custodial staff on campus also has a larger impact on the school’s appearance and reputation than just keeping the campus clean.
Research from APPA – Leadership in Educational Facilities suggests that universities with well-maintained facilities, such as classrooms, residential areas, and student service buildings, are much more attractive to students. APPA is an organization that focuses on improving education facilities through training facility managers and focusing on elevating learning environments. In a research report done in 2006, APPA member Maggie Kinnman suggests that “the survey suggested a significant number of respondents rejected an institution because facilities were missing, inadequate or poorly maintained.”
The impacts of the custodial staff are felt by all of us, whether we know it or not. The clean boards that we see in the morning, the quick responses to Fix-It requests, and their warm smiles when we greet them are just a few of the things that affect us everyday. UCSD focuses heavily on community, and we are thankful for the custodial staff in our community who work hard at their jobs.
Photo by Mariyah Shad.