Editorial: Students lack appreciation for campus workers

Photo courtesy Creative Commons.
Photo courtesy Creative Commons.

They are all around us, yet it seems many of us don’t even notice. Roaming the halls of Northeastern’s academic buildings after dark, they empty each trash can and vacuum away each dirty footprint on the floor. They make our breakfasts, our lunches, our dinners. Many students’ first conversation of  the morning is with Al and Archie, the men working behind the grill at Rebecca’s.

Despite all they do for us, Northeastern campus workers are not acknowledged nearly enough by students. The same people work the same jobs every single day in our service, yet most of us don’t even know their names, how they are or say thank you. Some of us don’t even give them a greeting or a nod of recognition.

It is much more likely for a student to smile and interact with one of their professors. This could be because of the power dynamic between professors and students. Or maybe it is because society has taught us to treat people of “higher” professional ranking with more respect. Perhaps students are more comfortable approaching professors because they spend so much time engaging with them in the classroom.

No matter the reason, this disconnect is unacceptable. Students should treat campus workers with the same appreciation and respect they treat professors and even each other with. Why? Campus workers are key in helping Northeastern function as a university and make it possible for students to focus on their studies, rather than on preparing their own food or learning in dirty classrooms. Even on days professors are not on campus, like weekends, snow days and vacations, custodians and dining hall workers are still there, maintaining the campus we are used to having.

There is another more disturbing reason that students should voice their appreciation and strike up conversation with dining hall workers: The working conditions for many campus workers are less than ideal.

They make low wages, some of which are barely enough to keep them and their families out of poverty. A Northeastern dining hall employee, Roxanna Santana, works full-time, yet is forced to live in low-income housing and cannot afford to send her teenage daughter to college.

Not only do campus workers face difficulties from an employment perspective, but many are also immigrants. Some speak minimal English and are still trying to establish a life in the United States. The least we can do is thank these people when we see them doing their jobs. Even better would be to strike up a conversation with them and learn their stories.

Some Northeastern students succeed at bridging the gap between workers and students. For example, a student organization known as Huskies Organizing With Labor, or HOWL, recently collaborated with dining hall workers to fight for higher wages and better health care. The Progressive Student Alliance, known as PSA, works to promote social and economic justice for workers in the university and around the world.

Respecting our workers can mean as little as asking the chef behind the grill how their day is going while waiting for your omelette, or asking the name of the janitor who takes out the trash in your classroom every evening. It can mean as much as supporting them as they continue to demand better working conditions and cleaning up after yourself to ease their daily burden. In unity and community there is strength, and campus workers are absolutely an integral part of the Northeastern community.

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