Doing Harvard's Dirty Work

Dorm Crew, Babysitters Prepare to Receive Alumni

What's the difference between a college dormitory and a 25th reunion celebration?

One week and several hundred dorm crew workers.

To get the dormitories ready for the first joint Harvard-Radcliffe reunion, the custodial departments have been sweeping, scrubbing and mopping the rooms into acceptable shape, as reunion planners prepare to accommodate as many as 800 children of the 635 alumni expected to return for their 25th reunion.

Planners say they charged a flat price for the week's activities of $695 per returning graduate, regardless of family size, because the 25th reunion is the last one that schedules activities for alumni children. They say they have charged one price per graduate, and not per person, for at least 15 years.

"If people are flying in from California, then they're already spending a lot of money to have their children with them," says reunion coordinator Marion Briefer. "Since the fee is a bargain even for one person, it encourages people to bring their children along."

Last week's preparations, while strenuous, were only half the job. The other half is taking care of the children of the alumni who will be staying for the week.

The number and age of each graduate's children determines where they lives this week, says Lisa O. Monaco '90, the student coordinator for the 25th reunion. "Junior families," with many small children, live mainly in the Yard, while others are assigned to the Houses.

Radcliffe alumnae will be assigned rooms in the Yard or in river Houses, Monaco adds, unless they ask to stay in their undergraduate houses at the Quad. Members of the Radcliffe Class of 1938 will be the Quad's main tenants for the next week.

Reunion planners say they will divide the 800 children into groups by age, as they have done in past years. The groups, from the "grapes," ages six to nine, to the "blues," over 18, will take field trips in the area.

"They'll do activities during the day with their groups, like going to the beach or to museums," Monaco says, "whatever is pertinent to the age group."

Harvard students acting as counselors will lead the groups in a variety of activities during the week. Student babysitters will care individually for children under six.

"We took them to the circus, the aquarium and the zoo," says Joanna M. Miller '88 who was a counselor two years ago.

The counselors applied for their positions during the year and were interviewed by the directors Monaco says. She adds that the looking for enthusiasm and responsibility, and,above all, enough energy to handle the youngerkids.

"It's a long day from eight in the morning to10 at night, and that might get to be a drag,"predicts neophyte Ellen J. Rubin '89. "I'm kind ofshort so I might not be too good of an authorityfigure, but I can yell really loud."

Night counselors will make sure that thechildren go to sleep after the day's activities,Monaco says, by sitting in the entryways of thedorms until all the parents are in.

"That way the parents at the reunion events canrest assured that their kids are not running allover Cambridge at all hours of the night," shesays.

The children and their parents will have cleanrooms because of the efforts of the dorm crews.Many of the dormitories were left in poorcondition by the departing undergraduates, workerssay, and the dorm crews have just one week toclean them all.

Fortunately, according to Al Edwards,supervisor of custodial services, the workers haveyears of experience to draw on. "Basically, it'sbeen the same for 30 years," Edwards says. "It's atough job though--it's no picnic."

Dorm crew workers say they "sanitize" the roomsby sweeping and mopping the floors, scrubbing thebathrooms, dusting the horizontal surfaces andmaking the beds. The single biggest problem overtime, says Edwards, is "the bulk of the rubbish."He says the dorm crews fill several dumpsters withtrash over the course of the week.

Edwards says that none of the houses wasparticularly sloppier than any other. "The hardestplaces to clean up are the dorms in which we havedorm crew workers living because the dirt is goingin two directions there," Edwards says. "In mostplaces the dirt is just going out, but the dormcrew workers bring some dirt into the places theylive during the week."

Housing the students who stay an extra week ortwo to work in the dorm crews and then on childcare and other reunion tasks was the hardest partof the preparations, the dorm crew directors say.

"We had 500 people sign up to work who neededhousing," says Head Dorm Crew Captain Suzie L.Steinbach '88. "It would be a lot easier if peopleworked when they say they could work and told usthey needed housing when they really neededhousing."

The students say they stay because the pay isgood, but there are sometimes added rewards fordorm crew workers. While most of the trash comingfrom the empty rooms consisted of crumpled paperand sheer dirt, dorm crew workers say theyoccasionally find "garbage" of value. And althoughdorm crew regulations say the discards should bethrown out, some workers keep or sell items thatare valuable.

"Last year I collected a stack of books andsold them for $30 to various bookstores around theSquare," Jeff C. Dobbins '89 says.

"I found $21 in change and I put it right inthe bank," adds Avi Levitt '91.

In addition to change, books and boxes oflaundry detergent, dorm crew workers often findmore peculiar items. One worker, who asked not tobe identified, says she found a refrigerator, aninflatable giant mosquito and an untapped keg ofbeer in one of the rooms.

"It was really good when I was a freshman,"says Kris E. Baird '89. "Everyone gotrefrigerators. That's a bit of an exaggeration,but there was a lot of interesting things leftbehind."

While the dorm crew has a reputation forthrowing out--or keeping--items of valueaccidentally left behind in the rooms, directorssays the crews take precautions to protectimportant leftovers.

"It's a very top priority for us not to throwout the seniors' stuff and other stuff that isvaluable," Steinbach says.

While some dorm crew workers have discoveredinteresting or profitable items in the room, forothers the work has been nothing but tedious,tiring and dirty. Even the least messy jobs, likemaking beds, can be fraught with peril.

"We had to make the beds in Currier House, andall of the freshmen workers got lost in thetunnels," says Tim L. Hurley '90, the linencaptain.

And before the dorm crews arrive, maintenanceworkers fix damage in the rooms.

"We have to fix a few shades and windows, andfill a few holes in the walls--the kind of thingsyou find after a normal dorm party," says freshmandorm superintendent Kathy Bray '90.

Because this will be the first jointHarvard-Radcliffe reunion Briefer says thefestivities will last until Friday at bothschools. Radcliffe reunions have traditionallyended a day later than their Harvard counterparts.Photo Courtesy of Radcliffe College ArchivesPsychiatrist Bruno Bettelheim of theUniversity of Chicago warned Radcliffe studentsagainst "the dullness of domestic duties for theeducated woman."